Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Drifting House"

Krys Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in California and Washington, and studied in the United States and England. She was a finalist for Best New American Voices, received a special mention in the 2012 Pushcart Prize XXXVI, and her work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Narrative magazine, Granta (New Voices), California Quarterly, Asia Weekly, the Guardian, the New Statesman, and Conde Nast Traveller, UK (forthcoming). Lee lives in Seoul with intervals in San Francisco.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Drifting House, and reported the following:
Page 69 comes from an intensely personal story for me. “The Pastor’s Son” is one of the few stories that touch on autobiography, as the rest of Drifting House is only informed thematically by my obsessions and my life. I grew up with a troubled pastor as a father. His contradictions, and eventually, his death, haunt my life and my writing. Though I am not a teenage boy, and the manner in which my father died differed from what happens on the page here, the spirit of my father, and our family, is very similar to what it was like growing up a Korean American in difficult family circumstances. It was as dramatic and tumultuous as what happens on this page, and is probably as autobiographical a story as I’ll ever write.

Also, there’s a lot less humor and fantasy in this story than in the rest of Drifting House. I think of my stories as like life: light and dark, beauty and terror, humor and horror. That’s why the Kansas Star’s recent review of my collection, which noted that Drifting House recalls “Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, holding beauty and brutality in an elegant equipoise” was gratifying. It’s nice to know a reviewer has read a book carefully and got to the heart of Drifting House.

Page 69 of "The Pastor's Son"--
“This rage…” His voice slowed. “I can’t slow myself—”

“Enough, Abeoji.”

I walked away. When I held my hand out in front of me, they wee shaking. They were strangers to me, these large knuckles and thick fingers I would grow into. I turned.


I said nothing.

My father took off his shoes and laid them neatly on the cement as if he had just come home. He sat, legs folded over each other, then got up again, as if he wasn’t sure where he wanted to be. He walked over. His hands held my face, and he stared deep into my eyes. He kissed my cheeks.

“Adeul-ah, pray for me.” His voice dropped. “No matter what, tell them I drowned.”

And just as I moved toward him, my father turned his back on me and on God, and stepped casually off the riverside path and into the river.

I have not looked at photos of my father for years. His bloated river face and emptied-out eyes have faded for me, though I still hear his cadences, those broken incantations that rang through my childhood. Soon after my father’s passing, I stopped attending church. No matter how often New Mother reminded me that I was a pastor’s son, I could never go back.

During my college years I dutifully visited New Mother; sometimes I just made phone calls. Every year I poured rice wine that my father liked so much over his grave and pulled the weeds around the tombstone; I ordered flowers for my mother’s grave.
Learn more about the book and author at Krys Lee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue