In Ju’s debut novel in stories, a young woman explores the dangerous, voyeuristic, and violent undertones of her sexual encounters.
The blistering opening salvo, “How Not to Have an Abortion,” traces the narrator’s teenage journey to Planned Parenthood and handles reproductive rights with humor, grace, and an unflinching eye for detail. We follow her to college, a “no-name liberal arts school in rural Pennsylvania,” then out to Los Angeles, where she encounters a self-absorbed copy editor and a nudist, among other lackluster beaus. As she ages, she grows ever more distant and apathetic about her decisions, most of which revolve around men. At times, the narrator is distressingly disconnected from the other people in her life, from her mother and sister, who share a “dank, cramped walk-up apartment in Koreatown,” to her single friend, a sour young woman named Erin. This distance is a product of the ease with which the narrator disassociates, and it’s no wonder why. The men that dominate her life tip easily from tenderness to violence, especially in “Easy Target,” a complicated, menacing story about rape set at a swingers party in Eagle Rock. Throughout these stories of ugliness and disconnection, Ju has a gift for plucking the exact right phrase out of the air: a date is described as “a decent-looking guy with a conservative haircut, the kind you might see in a Men’s Warehouse ad,” while a roommate has “a scrim of mousy hair and soft chub.” At times uneven, the collection would benefit from more breadth and the sustained energy of its early stories. Like the narrator’s frustrated boyfriend in “The Regulars,” readers might eventually wonder “Why draw attention to something ugly?” But for Ju, who has a strong, nimble voice, attention—and ugliness—is the point.
A promising start for a brave and unapologetically bold new writer.