The book-a-week challenge continues with Out, by Natsuo Kirino.
A wife and mother who works the overnight shift making box lunches finally had enough of a husband who strays, gambles, loses their savings, humiliates her, and displays all the indifference of a stranger. She strangles him, then convinces her co-worker friends to help her dispose of the body and cover up her crimes.
This is the heart of the mystery novel Out, by Natsuo Kirino, but to say that’s what the story is about is wrong. Out is a glimpse into the underbelly of a microcosm of darkest modern Japan. It’s notable for what is absent. Its characters are dark, intense, mystifying, mortifying, desperate, caught in the gears of the terrible machine of survival, day to day, night to night, paycheck to paycheck. Indifferent husbands, recalcitrant children, indifferent bosses, creepy co-workers, and sinister criminals populate the pages. Kirino’s style is direct and unceasing. Just as the reader grasps the implication of one action, another comes, then another, then another.
What’s not to like?
I discovered this morbid gem of a thriller several years ago and finished reading it for a second time the past weekend. Kirino, who came to writing in her 30s and published in her 40s to wide acclaim, wastes no time in describing the miserable existence of a team of food factory workers mindful of quotas and the best position on the assembly line to endure a long, tiring shift. Their day continues upon their return to their homes in the morning to face the demands, slights, and misery of their lives. The incessant need for money is one of the book’s central themes. Bone weariness another. Unwanted attention by a strange man and the humiliation of not being young and pretty are others. Most know how it is to be treated as automatons, cash dispensers, or objects of scorn.
All of this, described in exquisite detail, drives the central theme of the story: one woman had enough. It’s a fatal decision, and her coworkers, the only people she could remotely call her friends, step up, albeit timidly or reservedly. That she convinced her friends to help her, using comradery and bribery, is only the setup to the crime’s gruesome aftermath. The tension quickens as reality sets in. What ensues is dark and occasionally funny, but is also an examination not only of an individual, but a group, and a national, consciousness.
A novelist and a short-story writer, Kirino has won many awards. Out is the winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, Best Japanese Crime Fiction of the Year, nominated for an Edgar award by the Mystery Writers of America. Some of her other works have won the prestigious Tanizaki Prize and the Yomiuri Prize.
But for me as a reader, the one prize that matters above all others, is believing a book is worth reading twice, three times, four times. Few have reached that apex. Out surely has.
Out, by Natsuo Kirino, translated by Stephen Snyder.
5 stars out of 5.
Available in all formats everywhere.
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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s Son, The Thief’s Mistake, Traitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.