Have you heard of the Sunday Story Society, a fortnightly short story reading club? All stories are available on line and the full schedule can be found here.
I’ve been a member from the beginning and while I’m reading and enjoying the stories, I haven’t been too active when it comes to commenting on them. I must hone my critical skills, I think. Other members of the club, a number of them writers, are very eloquent and I’m taking tips from them.
There have been 7 stories and 7 authors to date, including Jennifer Egan, Kevin Barry and Angela Carter. Story #6, Krys Lee’s Drifting House, is my favourite by a mile: a harrowing tale concerning 3 young children, abandoned by their mother, who has fled to China. The eldest, an eleven-year old with a body withering on two years of boiled tree bark, mashed roots, and the occasional grilled rat and fried crickets on a stick, must take on the role of parent to his younger brother and disabled sister. Knowing there is no future, other than death by starvation, if they remain where they are, he decides they must attempt the journey across the North Korean border in order to find their mother. This is only the first of many hard decisions. And so, they set out in the freezing winter, semi-starved before they begin. Lee’s poetic and vivid prose reflects the bleakness of the situation in the landscape and in dreams. It is a journey against the odds, a journey of hardship and one which chilled me right to the bone.
I had to acquire and read the whole collection asap. Now that I have done both, I can say it is as fine a collection as I have ever read. It is an exploration of the contemporary Korean experience from the perspective of those who remain or those who emigrate. Harsh experiences no matter which way you look at it – particularly for the men: Goose fathers (geese fathers?), left in Korea, but still expected to support families who have migrated to America in search of an less demanding education for the children. (16 hour school days are the norm in Korea.) Men who simply leave home for a life on the streets when they are made unemployed. A world in which a man is valued only for the economic support he can provide. Migrants fare poorly too. Children remain friendless in American schools, mixed-race children (a result of the Korean war) face the same challenge in Korea. There is a lot of violence – particularly in the home, with life spiralling out of control for many reasons. Some of those downward spirals are more extreme than others. No matter where they are, everyone is drifting, trying to find home. Sadly it is a place that does not exist.
Obviously this isn’t the collection to read if you seek comfort. These pages are dark and full of despair, yet acutely observed, and illuminating. Uplifting in a count-your-blessings kind of way. A wonderful blend of realism and lyricism, full of literary quality. Only one weak story (the penultimate) in the entire collection of 9. Though that statement is more a reflection of my taste than anything else.
Drifting House is a marvel. I can’t wait to make more Sunday Story Society discoveries.
is hosted by David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread.