This is a really difficult review to write. From the description and some reviews of this book, I expected a thriller about four Japanese women, touching on their rebellion against their still patriarchal society. For a large part of the book, that’s what I got. But about three-quarters of the way through, the book took a turn for the worse, and a huge turn for the weird.
Out focuses on four friends working the night shift in a boxed lunch factory just outside of Tokyo. They are all working the night shift for different reasons: Kumiko to pay off her considerable credit card debt, Yoshie to keep up with the bills for her daughter’s school tuition and taking care of her invalid mother in law, Masako can make more money and avoid spending time with her husband who she no longer loves, and Yayoi is able to work while her children are asleep. Making boxed lunches can be difficult, physical work, and when Yayoi slips on the slick floor, she reveals a large bruise to Masako by accident. She admits that she’s having problems with her husband, and he has hit her. Masako is concerned, but Yayoi returns home.
At this point, I ran into a major complaint with the quality of the audiobook. I thought there was a major jump in the story, because all of a sudden, Masako already knew that Yayoi had strangled her husband, and was on her way to help her figure out what to do. After listening to that disc, and putting in the next one, I realized that I had two copies of Disc 3, and was missing Disc 2. I thought this was a mistake on my library’s part, but the first Disc 3 was labeled Disc 2, straight from the publisher. That is a major quality control issue, and I really missed out on a very important part of the book. But I kept listening.
Masako coached Yayoi on what to do in the next few days, when to call her husband’s office, when to report him missing, and how to act. And amazingly, she offered to get rid of the body. But she needed help, and she knew that Yoshi would help her. They cut up the body in Masako’s bathroom (cue the first of many extremely graphic sequences) and put the parts into small black garbage bags. But in the middle of the worst of it, Kumiko shows up to ask Masako for a loan. It seems like everyone is always asking Masako for something, and it gets tiring.
So Kumiko is brought in, and with the promise of money, she is given the task of disposing with some of the garbage bags, along with Masako and Yoshi. So now, all four women are part of the scheme, but the book is far from over after they dispose of the body. Of course, Masako dumps all of her bags in one dumpster, in a public place, and they’re found almost immediately. Of course, those bags include a palm (fingertips having been removed) so the body could be identified. Of course, after Masako blackmails Yayoi into cosigning on a loan, the loan shark figures out what happened (right. immediately he figures out the entire thing) and wants Masako to become his business partner. Of course the police accused an innocent man, who turned out to be totally evil and set on revenge.
Since I really can’t describe what SO bothered me about this book without going into some major spoilers. If you’re spoiler sensitive just know that this book has some great parts, some seriously disturbing parts, some disturbingly unbelievable parts, and great narration from the audiobook. And don’t keep reading.
Satake, the sociopathic club owner who was accused of the murder and released, is easily the most disturbing character. He is meant to be. I understand that. But starting with the description of the rape/murder of his first victim, long before the events in the book, he was over the top and really just offensive. When he noted his rape victim released and started to enjoy herself just before he fatally stabbed her (she was already wounded and bleeding long before that), I originally thought it was just the author’s way to highlight just how incredibly sick this guy was.
But it seemed like almost a turning point into a different book. Yes, the plot turned even darker here, but it also turned into a much sicker, more violent, twisted, just disturbing book.
I actually really enjoyed the plot point about Masako starting up a little body disposal business. It seemed to fit her no nonsense personality so well. And it seemed like a nice way to tie everything up. Yayoi gets off clean, Masako and Yoshi go into business together, and Kumiko is left alone and in debt. Serves her right, of course.
But that wasn’t a good enough ending for the author. I didn’t mind that the story went on further, but I just really didn’t want to listen to an extended rape/torture scene. Again. When Satake captures, tortures, and rapes Masako, we get to see the scene first from his perspective, and then from hers. It’s graphic, and disgusting, and AGAIN, there is implied enjoyment from Masako.
And even though the enjoyment is just implied, after Masako escapes, we find her traveling to Satake’s hometown, hoping she can find a man like him.
Although this book started out on a good path, it ended up making me feel really dirty. And not in a good way. Not in a good way at all. If it had ended somewhere in the middle, it would have been a 3-4 star book for sure. As it is, I have to give it 2.
I do have to say, though, the narration was excellent. I immediately recognized the narrator as the same woman who did Ren in Year of the Flood. She did just as great a job here as she did in that book.
It’s a shame that poor production of the CDs, and a crazy tangent in the middle ruined this book. Otherwise, I think it could have been a really excellent story of women bonding together in male dominated Japan. Instead, it was just gross.
I’d link you to the CDs but they are $117!