Thursday, November 3, 2016

Shelter-Jung Yun

Shelter-Jung Yun

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 336
gender: F
nationality: S. Korea
year: 2016
novel

After a truly violent home invasion, Mae and Jin (and their housekeeper Marina) move in with their son, Kyung and his family. Their family relationship is the center of the novel and it is dysfunctional.

This was so hard to read. Not because of Yun's prose (razor sharp) or pacing (thriller-style) but because the main character, Kyung, is such an angry, damaged, insecure (emotionally and financially) individual. There are reasons for this-his strained relationship with his father is visceral but it did make his every action so grudging that it was difficult to actually feel for Kyung. You sense that he's happy with nothing, anxious, and when he rejects kindness, makes obvious mistakes and just generally walks around like he's blind to anyone other than himself (though, he's not?), you don't find yourself rooting for him precisely. Yun however, handles him masterfully because you never root against him either. He's a nuanced and well developed character which is sadly rarer for an Asian-American character. There's the standard tropes of culture clash but he's also clearly American in his struggles. Then there's Mae, his mother, she's both victim and victimizer and she's a complex character in of herself. I honestly can't process what I think of Mae. Her attempts to escape, her lashing out, her baffling about-faces are so confusing that I can't even begin that I sympathize with Kyung's attempts to weather her storms.

I feel like I'm not selling it right. None of these characters are particularly likable but Yun makes you care about them. The pace keeps you going. The story is intense and it lingers for quite a while past the last pages of the novel. I can't believe this is her first novel because the execution of all these difficult tasks-making a reader care about such damaged family dynamics, incorporating the complexities of multiple cultures, and allowing the reader to parse all this information in the context of such an overwhelmingly violent first scene while never giving into the easier path-is near perfect.

This is reread material.

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