Out by Natsuo Kirino is a crime/thriller novel about a group of women factory workers who must dispose of a body because one of them killed her husband. The group consists of four women: Masako (the calculated leader), Yayoi (the one who killed her husband and is guiltless), Yoshie (the obedient one), and Kuniko (the debt ridden and arrogant one). After Yayoi kills her husband, she asks Masako to help her, where the rest of the group is employed to cut up the body and throw the pieces away in trashcans. They’re able to keep what they did under wraps until the body gets found in a park and a local club owner is accused of the killing. The club owner, Satake, subsequently loses his business and decides to go after the four women. For Satake, it draws up a moment in his past he wants to relive, torturing/raping/killing a woman decades ago. All the while, the four women begin to crumble where Kuniko continues to rack up loans and debt, Masako’s crumbling marriage is finally unearthed, Yoshie’s caretaking responsibilities increase, and Yayoi is constantly accused and questioned. Though, Masako is employed by one of Kuniko’s debt collectors, who has connections to the Yakuza, to cut up bodies for them to dispose of. It goes well until Satake kills Kuniko and sends the body to Masako to cut up. Satake continues to terrorize the group by robbing Yayoi of all her life insurance money and following the rest of the group. Satake finally is able to entrap Masako, rape her, and is about to kill her when she slashes his face with a scalpel, where he bleeds out and dies. Though, near the end, Masako begins to understand Satake’s feral violence and passion and feels sad about the death.
The novel is told from the viewpoint of each main character: Masako, Yayoi, Yoshie, Kuniko, the debt collector, and Satake. With this type of story, the POV switching helped to keep the tension high. I also enjoyed the way the story went into the mindset of Masako and Satake, particularly how they see themselves as different and then finally as more similar than initially. Kirino is an expert in pacing, and while I don’t usually read crime fiction, I was enraptured in the narrative. It made me question why I was rooting for one main character, while all of them had done morally questionable things—and that nuance is what I felt made the novel that much better.
Final Rating: 4/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.