Out, by Natsuo Kirino
By Natsuo Kirino; translated by Stephen Snyder
Kodansha, 2003. 359 pp.
What happens when you cross the line of decency, discovering a predilection for sociopathic behavior? Natsuo Kirino wrestles with this matter in “Out,” a masterful and psychologically astute novel that won Japan’s top mystery award. Kirino writes, “You never really knew your own limits until you’d killed someone–there was nothing else quite like it. To be sure, there was a deep sense of guilt, but Satake had also discovered in himself a tendency to enjoy inflicting pain, as well as a powerful charge from the proximity to death….” (33)
|Shrine in Iidebashi, Tokyo.|
The action begins when a young woman strangles her abusive husband and asks female friends to dispose of the corpse. Performing the grisly deed transforms them, especially Masako, who feels she “crossed a border into some foreign land” (91) and “didn’t really want to find a way back.” (265) They realize they’ll do anything for money, now that they’re tainted.
This attitude makes sense, given their dreary lives. In Kirino’s Tokyo, women over 30 can rarely find dignified, lucrative jobs. Her female characters feel forced into working nights at a prisonlike factory so as to support indolent men and ungrateful relatives. These vividly drawn women lack sleep, money and hope.
Profitable (if morally questionable) acts offer a tempting, thrilling way “out.” And as men and women meet on the other side of the moral divide, they find cruelly sensual ways of interacting. Sadism and sexuality commingle, reminiscent of “Last Tango in Paris,” until the characters achieve a final transformation in the unforgettable conclusion.