A quiet but compelling rumination on family, race, and trauma, built on the spaces in Korean folktales.

FOLKLORN

A Korean American physicist with a postdoc position in Stockholm grapples with the real and imagined ghosts of her family’s past.

Elsa Park’s time in the Antarctic conducting research on neutrinos is coming to an end, punctuated by the reappearance of a specter from her past: a girl who has played with her, advised her, and followed her since she was a child. Though Elsa left her home just outside Los Angeles for boarding school and eventually her position in Sweden, her friend’s reappearance heralds a return to her old life in California, centered around her father’s crumbling auto body shop, where she must confront the complicated ties that bind her to her father, mother, and older brother. Hanging over all this are the stories her mother told—and didn’t tell—dark tales of girls sacrificed for bells, girls lost at sea, girls used. Who is Elsa’s friend really, since no one else can see her, and what does she mean for their family? Oskar Gantelius, a Korean adoptee Elsa met in Sweden, may hold the key to her questions if she can manage to make sense of all the stories. Ruminations on physics are interspersed with Korean folktales, though intergenerational trauma means the narrative can never soar into whimsy for long. Elements of magical realism are tempered well by the realities of one Korean immigrant family. Though Elsa is often an unlikable narrator, her story is gripping and rings as true as the bell she hears in her mind.

A quiet but compelling rumination on family, race, and trauma, built on the spaces in Korean folktales.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64566-016-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Erewhon

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

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LATER

Horrormeister King follows a boy’s journey from childhood to adolescence among the dead—and their even creepier living counterparts.

Jamie Conklin sees dead people. Not for very long—they fade away after a week or so—but during that time he can talk to them, ask them questions, and compel them to answer truthfully. His uncanny gift at first seems utterly unrelated to his mother Tia’s work as a literary agent, but the links become disturbingly clear when her star client, Regis Thomas, dies shortly after starting work on the newest entry in his bestselling Roanoke Saga, and Tia and her lover, NYPD Detective Liz Dutton, drive Jamie out to Cobblestone Cottage to encourage the late author to dictate an outline of his latest page-turner so that Tia, who’s fallen on hard times, can write it in his name instead of returning his advance and her cut. Now that she’s seen what Jamie can do, Liz takes it on herself to arrange an interview in which Jamie will ask Kenneth Therriault, a serial bomber who’s just killed himself, where he’s stowed his latest explosive device before it can explode posthumously. His post-mortem encounter with Therriault exacts a high price on Jamie, who now finds himself more haunted than ever, though he never gives up on the everyday experiences in which King roots all his nightmares.

Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7890-9649-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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