Rarely am I able to describe books in one word but I can do so with Out: kaleidoscopic.
Natsuo Kirino is a popular writer in Japan and I’ve wanted to get into her work for some time. Personally, I had wanted to start with Grotesque but I saw this at a bookstore for a reasonable price and figured What the heck?
Well sometimes fate deals you quite a hand. Coincidentally, this is a major theme in Out: how the actions and behaviors of others impact people. We’ll get to that. But first, I must lavish Natsuo Kirino with Hosannas for her characters. What great characters! She gives them so much depth and detail (without shading into the glorification of banality as is the custom of some writers) that I felt their lives, their pain, their struggles, their greed in a visceral way. None of them are sympathetic but neither are they merely evil. You can empathize with most of them (except the murder victim really) because of their circumstances, even if they make decisions that are bad or worse.
Along the way, it’s evident the writer is saying something about Japanese society writ large, particularly how it treats women. How these four women wind up working the night shift in a dumpy, depressing box factory doing hard labor filled me with sadness. And it’s impressive when a writer can do this without it feeling didactic. The ability to show but not tell is a special one and Natsuo Kirino has it.
I made it a point to learn as little about this book as possible going in so I could be surprised by the story. And I was. But what I was also surprised about was how these characters kept being drawn to one another through the fate of circumstance and how perceptions affect people’s actions. Some of these connections felt slightly contrived but I didn’t really care. Whenever I thought I knew the writer was going with this, she jerked me in another direction. I never got a full handle on this book until the last page.
This is a thrilling read that manages to be both deep and suspenseful.