on 7 April 2012
One of the most memorable story collections I have ever read is written by an author who demonstrates that she can transform simple, unadorned, prose into especially moving fiction conveying ample empathy and understanding for the characters and the settings she depicts. While these stories are about Koreans in North Korea, South Korea and the United States, this is a story collection whose memorable tales defy labeling, moving easily between realism and magical realism, written by a writer who writes assuredly as if this was merely one of her latest literary efforts, not her very first book of fiction. Krys Lee's "Drifting House" is one of the finest recent literary debuts I have read, replete with nine stories told compelling via a lean prose , a most memorable economy of style, that bears some resemblance to William Gibson's latest ("Zero History") in its clarity and precision, able to convey much emotion to the reader. Lee's stories chronicle rootless people, trapped by circumstances beyond their control, often caught in a clas hof cultures; between those of North and South Korea, between Korean and American.
One of the best stories in this collection, "Temporary Marriage", describes how a Seoul divorcee opts for a new life in Los Angeles, finding an unexpected haven in the home of an older Korean-American man as she plots an unexpected reunion with her young daughter, taken from her years before by her former husband. In "At the Edge of the World", nine year-old Korean American Myeongseok "Mark" Lee contends awkwardly with his awakening sense of love towards a young girl he befriends in school and with the psychological demons haunting his father, a North Korean defector. "The Salary Man" recounts vividly, the frustrations felt by a Seoul white collar worker as though he is the Korean counterpart to Arthur Miller's Willy Loman ("Death of a Salesman"). In "Drifting House", the title story, a young North Korean boy must make a most fateful and tragic decision as he and his siblings try fleeing North Korea in the dead of winter, hoping to follow their mother into the People's Republic of China. A young Korean-American woman seeks GOD and finds instead, a most unexpected sexual awakening in "The Believer". Teenager Mina searches for her long absent father, a soldier fighting in Viet Nam, and her first stirrings of sexuality in late 1970s Seoul in the concluding tale "Beautiful Women". All of these, as well as the others in "Drifting House", are astonishingly mature works of short fiction, demonstrating that Krys Lee is indeed a great new talent in American literary fiction.