There is always a long list of reasons as to why we as readers choose to buy a particular book. Sometimes it’s because of the cover, its shiny gloss finish or evocative illustration enticing us. Sometimes it’s because of the title; at other times it can be because of the premise of the story. Most of the time though, it’s a combination of these reasons, and more, that culminate in our decision.
So then, naturally, the question that I suppose comes to mind is what inspired me to buy a collection of horror stories? This is a especially potent question when one understands that I typically avoid this genre of fiction like the plague.
In this particular case, there was truly only one deciding factor. The author.
ZOO is a collection of short stories that crisscross between horror and science fiction. Following the lives of a group of ordinary and far-from-ordinary individuals, the book challenges us through eleven unrelated tales to question our own personal morality and mental prowess as we are pit against ourselves and the author in a search for the truth.
After having read Otsuichi’s first English released novel, the phenomenal Calling You, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would be back to buy his next released work. But what I never suspected from the same man that wrote a masterpiece of inspirational fiction was that he was actually famous for an entirely opposite reason.
To start, Otsuichi’s incredible skill with prose returns in full force as he weaves his tales effortlessly from one to another. A lack of writing talent is most certainly not to be found in the majority of this book. Along with the pitch-perfect pacing and word choice comes the author’s most noticeable trademark: his surprising twists at the end. Just like in his previous work, if not slightly more so in some cases, Otsuichi manages to throw a curve ball into a story that turns it completely upside down along with the reader. There are several stories inparticular that deserve praise for the sheer fact that they are truly genius. Readers hoping to be surprised will find more than they ever hoped.
However, no sooner can I begin to praise him than I must do the unthinkable and let loose my criticisms. While nearly every story in this book is written on par with the excellent quality expected from an author like Otsuichi, the twists that follow at the end of the horror stories are not. I hated the fact that the horror stories routinely suffered from lackluster endings that left me desiring much, much more. In fact, to be quite honest, those stories felt for the most part as if they were dead weight to the rest of the novel, with the exception of the finale.
On the other hand, the science fiction, dark humor, thriller, and mysteries for the most part were downright magnificent, combining everything that makes this young author’s writing brilliant along with some very thought provoking messages.
In many ways this novel will feel strange to both those who are new to the horror genre and those familiar. It really doesn’t fit snuggly into any genre and comes across like a hybrid experiment of differing stories. A mix of emotions are portrayed that range from depression to contemplation. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that several stories in this collection could change the way certain people live their lives. In particular, there is one story that I feel should be required reading for families suffering with domestic disputes. It’s just that powerful.
Though this novel did not in any way convince me to explore the horror genre further, and in most cases accomplished just the opposite, it has once again cemented my fandom for this rising novelist.
While readers will most likely be unable to appreciate this collection as a perfect whole, the individual stories contained within it that portray the best of this talented author will prove unforgettable and gripping. If readers aren’t too squeamish and can tread through the darker material to find the gems within, this book, like his previous, is simply not a book one can afford to pass over and should be promptly added to any book-lover’s shelf.
Matthew Reeves is an aspiring novelist living in California. You can usually find him lost in thought on a walk or writing on Twitter as @MattReeves17.