Noriko Hashimoto's reservations about marrying Kazuhito and joining the Shito household -- complete with siblings, parents, grandparents, and his great-grandmother -- are quickly dispelled by the sunny, welcoming personalities the family members display. To an unnatural degree, the family members embrace Noriko, viewing her as a "treasure" who will, in some unspoken way, be the family's salvation. Noriko is puzzled but flattered; she soon joins in the family's routines. All seems well until an old ice vendor tries to warn Noriko about the family, only to be interrupted by Noriko's mother-in-law before he can voice his concerns. When the ice vendor and his family die in an explosion, Noriko begins to suspect that the Shito family is not as perfect as it seems. A friend in whom she confides tells her: "You haven't married into money, you've married into a swamp of madness."
But what sort of madness underlies the apparent perfection of this extended family? Are they criminals? Are they deviants, living apart from the social norms that Noriko has always accepted? Noriko feels alienated, in part because she doesn't share the family's unnatural closeness (to quote an ancient issue of Mad magazine, "the family that bathes together, stays together," an apt description of the Shitos). Noriko observes an apparent sexual flirtation between siblings that concerns her, even as the family members shrug off her objections to their lifestyle. From the beginning, Noriko is subjected to a form of brainwashing designed to transform her into a true Shito. Her attempt to share her concerns with a friend only results in a new round of confusion and trouble.
For most of the novel, Noriko is stifled in her effort to understand the Shitos, as is the reader. While the reader shares Noriko's suspicions about the family's true nature, Asa Nonami keeps the family's secret well hidden. When the truth is finally revealed, however, it seems both anti-climactic and beyond improbable. Moreover, while it is easy to empathize with Noriko's plight, I found it difficult to accept that the familial brainwashing would so completely transform her belief system.
As I've found to be true with other thrillers translated from Japanese, the writing style is straightforward but uninspired. Perhaps it was the plainness of the prose that kept me from becoming engrossed in the story. More likely it was my eventual realization that Nonami was driving toward a destination that scarcely seemed worth reaching. The story of the Shito family is odd but not particularly shocking (although perhaps it was so regarded in 1993 when the novel was first published in Japan) -- not a good outcome for a novel that clearly aspired to provoke gasps. In short, Now You're One of Us tells an interesting story but fizzles out with a disappointing ending that doesn't match the promise of the novel's first half. It is a significantly less successful novel than The Hunter, the only other novel by this popular Japanese writer that I've read.