Otsuichi's Zoo is a collection of 11 strangely unremarkable short stories breaching genres of horror, psychological thriller, science fiction, and fantasy. Advertised as a much needed booster shot into tired genre tropes, Zoo falls short of providing readers with a revived take on fantasy infused horror. United by a theme of death and decay, the ideas are there, and many a premise appears destined for a grand payoff, but it never comes to fruition. Whether it's AI existentialism, a man receiving daily polaroids of his decaying ex-girlfriend, a deformed recluse building a house in the woods from dubious matter, an abused twin who plans the demise of the other, or a child intrigued by the seeming bottomlessness of a sandbox, none of the stories maintain a fitting climax.
I don't propose a neatly wrapped up conclusion, but there is a difference between an open ending and an author who has written himself into a corner. With no way to reconcile his intentions, he presents a work that feels unfinished, a hasty sketch of fluid features in lieu of fleshed out, concrete details. To Otsuichi's credit, every narrative has a decidedly visceral build-up, only to be followed by a decidedly rushed, uninspired finale. All stories, both in language and structure, read like a first draft.
The dreaded first person account is prevalent in 10 out of 11 stories. The intention is for them to read like diary entries, yet most are so monotone in style and simplistic in word choice, that it's hard to grasp at anything remotely wondrous. If this prose is supposed to be skillful and emotionally engrossing, it is lost in translation. It's too bad, because Otsuichi is a solid writer and has better works to showcase his talent (the novel Goth, for example). If it wasn't for the often clinically gruesome subject matter, I'd say Zoo reads more appropriately as a Young Adult entry. As it stands, this collection is neither here nor there, and I wouldn't recommend it as an introduction to the author, but rather complementary reading for die-hard fans of Otsuichi's craft.