Sunday, July 11, 2010

Book Review: "Out" by Natsuo Kirino

I had the pleasure of visiting a little bookstore a few weeks ago with my grandma. Actually, there was nothing "little" about that place, except for the fact that it wasn't anything like the big-name stores we know and love (I'm talking to you, Borders). But still, this place was amazing, and even though it had the same look and feel as an old, creepy antique store - with dim, flickering lights, creaky floor boards, and a faint smell of death - it was like my own personal Heaven. Books from floor to ceiling, rows and rows (and rows) of every topic imaginable . . . Seriously! I'm not sure how many bookstores can claim an actual section for topics like Jewish History or Fondue. It was that awesome.

I really didn't have a specific book in mind when I went in that day. You know how it is with those family-owned places: you can't walk in and expect to find twenty copies of Twilight, you just have to wander around and hope to stumble on a juicy treasure. Well I did, and it came in the form of Natsuo Kirino's Out.

Now, if you didn't already know this about me, I absolutely adore crime thrillers, horror, basically anything that makes the blood curdle. I'm the nerd next door who watches Criminal Minds until her eyes bleed, the geek who plays Resident Evil religiously, and the girl who'd rather see Saw than a romantic-comedy any day. I'm just weird (i.e. awesome) like that. So it probably doesn't surprise you that my first stop that day was to the "crime" section where Out immediately caught my eye. Something about the lines slashing through the woman's face on the cover made me think of a knife cutting through flesh. Thoroughly creepy. But it wasn't the picture that ultimately persuaded me to buy it; the review on the cover sealed the deal.

The review, written by some "professional" at New York Times, reads: "A nervy thriller . . . Out has the force of a juicy tabloid scandal . . . A potent cocktail of urban blight, perverse feminism and vigilante justice."

I must have read that ten times, just trying to get my head around whatever the heck "perverse feminism" meant. I honestly had no idea. And that is when I decided that I had to have this book.

I'm really picky when it comes to books. If I don't get hooked within the first, say, twenty or thirty pages it's really hard for me to find the willpower to finish it (there are more than a few "rejects" in the dark recesses of my closet). So when I say that Out left me constantly guessing and hungry to read more, you can bet that there's something a little different, a little special, about this book. And yes, I mean special in the worst possible way.

Out follows the lives of four very different Japanese women, their only connection being their nightshift at a local factory making meal boxes. The work is horrible - physically and mentally exhausting - but money serves a huge purpose in this novel, and for some reason or another each of the four women relies on a steady income. Masako, the blunt and sometimes distant leader of the pack, lives with a husband who couldn't care less if she walked out on him, and a teenage shut-in son who hasn't spoken a word to her in years. Yoshie, fondly known as "Skipper" around the factory, must balance working to send her ungrateful daughter through school with caring for her incontinent mother-in-law. Kuniko, a vain, selfish woman, spends all of her money on fake Chanel handbags even though it lands her in hot water with loan sharks. And Yayoi is a beautiful-yet-meak woman who struggles to take care of her two young sons while suffering the abuse of her alcoholic, gambling, ne'r-do-well husband.

If I were to go into detail about all the subtleties of the novel we'd probably be here all night, so I'll have to be painfully brief here: Yayoi murders her husband. Yep, you heard me. He came home after a particularly bad night of drinking and gambling and got a belt to the neck. Never even saw it coming.

The book is basically about how the four women come together after learning about Yayoi's unspeakable act. Masako (and later Yoshie and Kuniko) agree to dispose of the body if they're paid handsomely (like I said, money is a huge theme here). But what's amazing is not only how beautifully (and simply) the book's written, but how it makes you feel. It was honestly blowing my mind. Like I said before, I grew up on CourtTV and watching the cops get the bad guys, and for all intents and purposes these women should be monsters for agreeing to cut up a body and dispersing it throughout town (woops, did I give it away?), but it's written in such a way that you want them to succeed. You want them to get away with it. And your heart starts turning somersaults whenever the police get a tiny step further in figuring out the truth. Isn't that scary?

I guess I've never felt this before. I've never been so emotionally impacted by a book.

Feminist themes were definitely there, but New York got it right: it was perverse, extreme, nothing I'd ever want to be associated with. The book was female-centric in itself, and the women were constantly degraded by the men in their lives. For example: Masako worked in finance for over twenty years but had to sit idly by as her younger male coworkers surpassed her in wealth and prestige; men constantly showed disgust for Kuniko because she was overweight; Yayoi suffered physical abuse, etc.

For lack of a better term, these women had shitty lives and this drove them to their breaking point. Suddenly they were willing to do anything to earn money and get things back in order, even if it meant helping a friend get away with murder. This was probably the type of "perverse feminist revenge" the review was talking about.

I think Out is a despicable book about despicable women, but it's not every day that you come across a novel that can transport you to the other side of justice and make you feel sympathy - even encouragement - for such "monstrous" people. That's pretty powerful stuff.

I guess I would have to recommend this book to anyone who has the stomach for it!

P.S. The ending is going to blow your mind!

1 comment:

  1. I read this book because Natsuo Kirino is an Asian. There is something about their writing style that makes me crave for more. Just like Wei Hui, Haruki Murakami, and Kazuo Ichiguro.
    But to tell you the truth, I was shocked with the turned of the events.


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