AUTHOR: Natsuo Kirino
PUBLISHED: 1997 (Japan); 2004 (English translation)
PUBLISHER: Vintage Books
Quote: “You know," she murmured, "we're all heading straight to hell."
"Yes," said Masako, giving her a bleak look. "It's like riding downhill with no brakes."
"You mean, there's no way to stop?"
"No, you stop all right - when you crash.”
Overview: Four women work the night shift in a factory outside a Japanese suburb making boxed lunches. Kuniko is vain, materialistic and lazy, and her common-law husband just left her. Yoshie is a single mother taking care of her sickly mother-in-law. Masako is unemotional, strong and lonely even though she lives with her husband and son, both who are able to alienate themselves completely from the rest of the household. Yayoi is young and pretty and has two kids with her husband, who has degraded into a gambling addict, womanizer and drunkard who hits her from time to time.
Yayoi's husband, Kenji, returned home one night after being beat up and kicked out of a bar by the bar's owner, Satake, a man who spent time in prison for his criminal past. Kenji tells Yayoi that he lost all of their savings to gambling and women. Yayoi loses her temper and strangles him to death. She calls Masako who enlists Kuniko and Yoshie to help dispose of Kenji's body. What follows is a cat and mouse game. The women begin to throw each other under the bus, the police are taking any lead they can find, a loanshark gets involved by being in the right place at the right time and a criminal, involved because the women's actions caused him to lose all that he had, is on the hunt for revenge.
There's only one way out.
Analysis: Out has a base of a hardboiled detective story with a dash of horror and a sprinkle of psychological thriller. It is told through multiple perspectives which allows for the same event to be deconstructed differently. At certain moments the book leaned towards being slow, however, I found it moved quickly at about the halfway point and I sped through the second half much quicker than the first half. At times there were small leaps of faith in both the storyline and the characters, but it all worked well within the story. Out is one of those books whose coincidences and web of people, at times seeming all too "only in a book/movie," worked just perfectly to still be believable. Kirino mixed the mundane with the vicious and showed that there is both a good person and a monster in all of us. For better or worse, most people are capable of anything given certain circumstances. I've often heard (and agree) that reading fiction creates empathy because it forces the reader to look at the world through the eyes of others. Out is a perfect example of this as the reader is forced to live in the bodies of all of the characters - the nice, the violent, the dumb, the optimistic, the overworked, the women, the men, the sad, the angry, the tired - they're all there. The reader is all of them. As the book progresses, the lines become blurred between who is good and who is bad. There is just "is." Out won Japan's top mystery award and I understand why after reading it.
Conclusion: This is more than your average crime thriller novel and offers much to the reader in terms of character development, unique plot and gory, horror-filled moments shared between an unlikely group of people.