Does Korean literature have a slacker-novel genre? If so, here’s its archetype.
The protagonist of novelist/translator Jung’s (Most Ambiguous Sunday and Other Stories, 2013, etc.) slender yarn is a man of thought. Much thought. Too much thought. When he travels from Korea to find his girlfriend living with a Mexican man in Los Angeles, he finds himself pondering the interloper’s tattoo, then his rightness for a part in “a dull western movie in which a great many people are shot to death,” then his “very large black penis.” Never mind the discordant ethnicity, for our narrator is now off to thinking about lying in bed with his erstwhile girlfriend, “holding her nipple in my mouth without sucking on it or thinking about sucking on it.” Evidently exhausted by his mental efforts, he takes his time doing much of anything: a week drinking tequila here, a few days of gazing down at a vacant lot from the top of a scrubby hill there. Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man is already looking like Jackie Chan compared to this fellow by the time an odd habit of his begins to become painfully evident, namely a bizarre hyperattention to every scrap of data that passes by his eye or through his thoughts, so that Jung (for this is a conscious choice on the writer’s part, after all) spends hundreds of words having him wonder whether the catfish he’s ordered in Chinatown—at least he’s managed to move a few hundred miles north to San Francisco—was raised in Vietnam or the “Mississippi River Valley,” wherever that might be. By the time he gets to pondering the local fauna, the reader may be inclined to move a few hundred miles away, too: “Somewhere else in this world there might be a park with more moles, but I could not imagine a park with more moles than Golden Gate Park, which made the park seem to belong to the moles.”
A contrived world? A contrived book, though, if such a thing is wanted, an inducement to torpor and despair.