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A sensitive exploration of what it’s like to live at life’s emotional poles.

A Korean teenager struggles with a rare emotional impairment.

Soon Yunjae, a highly intelligent teenage boy who lives with his mother and grandmother in Seoul, suffers from alexithymia, a defect believed to be rooted in the amygdala—the almond-shaped region of the brain—that renders him incapable of expressing, or even identifying, his emotions. Yunjae’s antagonist, nicknamed Gon, has returned to his home after 13 years following a mysterious disappearance that saw him shunted among various foster homes and finally to a youth shelter. In that long exile, he’s become a hardened juvenile delinquent, bitter toward the father he believes abandoned him and acting out at every opportunity. When Yunjae becomes the victim of an act of random violence that shatters his life and thrusts him into an unwanted state of independence, Gon, sensing his classmate’s vulnerability, singles him out for special torment. The radical imbalance between Gon’s physical and emotional abuse and Yunjae’s inability to respond in any meaningful way fuels the novel’s escalating tension and justifies Yunjae’s blunt description of his story as one “about a monster meeting another monster.” But that imbalance subtly shifts as the two damaged boys inch toward something that looks like a friendship and becomes more complicated when a young girl named Dora enters the picture. In her debut novel, director and screenwriter Sohn makes the bold decision to choose an emotionally constricted first-person narrator, but the risk pays off. With the aid of a skillful translation, she conveys the hollowed-out feeling of Yunjae’s life and his almost inexpressible desire to overcome it, heightened by the contrast with Gon’s inability to control his rage. The novel will appeal fully to adults, but mature young readers who must cope in their everyday lives with the struggles of late adolescence will find themselves identifying with Yunjae and moved by his plight.

A sensitive exploration of what it’s like to live at life’s emotional poles.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296137-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperVia

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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