Otsuichi’s Zoo

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Otsuichi’s short story collection, Zoo, starts from the perspective of a killer and ends with the perspective of a survivor. Many of the English language Goodreads reviews of Zoo mention the effectiveness of Otsuichi’s bare-bones, minimalistic writing style and his knack of turning ordinary life matters like divorce and sibling rivalry into Rod Serling Night Gallery-type horror stories.

One reviewer called the writing Kafkaesque. Another compared it to Haruki Murakami and Ryu Murakami. I’ve read Haruki’s A Wild Sheep Chase and Ryu’s Coin Locker Babies. Zoo reminds me most of the latter because of the author’s ability to draw the social absurdity and horror out of mundane situations. In all three cases, the writing reads like a prosy entry in a detective’s notebook or psychiatrist’s profile of a patient. Individually, the sentences do not provide setting but read together, they provide mood.

My favorite stories are the opening story, “Zoo,” and the story immediately after, “In a Falling Airplane.” The first had me searching the internet for information about Peter Greenway’s a Zed and Two Noughts, which like his The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, left an impression on me as an undergraduate film and media major. The absurdity of the second story reminded me of a Tarantino film where the gangsters carry on a philosophical conversation in the middle of a gun fight. “In a Falling Airplane,” passengers on a flight that has been taken hostage haggle over a suicide pill.

I also enjoyed the shortest story in the book, “In a Park at Twilight, A Long Time Ago.” I read it as an attempt at horror flash fiction. It is the story that most felt like a Twilight Zone episode. I’m thinking about the one where the children go swimming in a lake and emerge in an alternate reality or the one where a woman receives a mysterious phone call and later discoveries that the phone line to her house has been severed and is sitting on a grave.

The final story, “Seven Rooms,” might be most representative of Otsuichi’s writing. It is methodical, gruesome yet practical in its observations, and provides an ending that is enjoyable but hardly happy. I am looking forward to reading Goth or Otsuichi’s older book, Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse.

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