Who Dares to Condemn Her?: Punch by Lee Jaechan
- onOctober 27, 2014
- Vol.23 Spring 2014
- byJung Seo Rin
“I’m a 5.”
Thus begins the first sentence of Lee Jaechan’s novel, Punch, neatly encapsulating the protagonist’s coolly succinct grasp of reality. In Punch, the rating of 5 is the lowest on a scale of 1 to 5 when it comes to assessing a person.
The 18-year-old narrator, a high school girl facing university entrance exams, is all too aware that one’s place in society is determined by the painfully shallow standards of going to elite schools, having money, and being pretty. So she nonchalantly tells herself she is “forever cursed to bear the shame of being a 5, from brains to looks.”
To the protagonist, her home, school, and society are places flowing with invisible blood, best summed up in words like violence, oppression, hypocrisy, and absurdity.
Her lawyer father lines his pockets in exchange for covering up the corruption of the elite. Her mother tries hard to fix her so-called defective daughter, who is neither a good student nor a beauty. Her parents’ religion has long forsaken the command to love thy neighbor, being too occupied with satisfying their own greed. Utterly torn to pieces by the standards of society, the protagonist decides to leave her parents in shreds as well; she hires a hit man to kill them.
Parricide, murder for hire—the theme is a heavy invitation into an abyss. Nevertheless, Lee consistently steers the narrative toward the cheerful, with vivid images and rhythmic sentences, befitting a novelist whose first foray into writing was as a scriptwriter.
While the teen’s methods are shocking, she feels no guilt, anxiety, or confusion. Still, the reader cannot possibly condemn her in the name of ethics or morals. Somehow, we silently applaud the “punch” she throws toward the indifference of society that we have long since learned to accept.
Lee Jaechan (b.1974) made his literary debut with Punch, which won him the Thirty-seventh Today’s Writer Award in 2013. He is the author of the novel Angela Syndrome.