Outsider Stories, Outsider Lives: The Hint Is “Brother-in-law” by Paik Gahuim

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.14 Winter 2011
  • byKim Hyoung-joong
The Hint is "Brother-in-law"

The Hint Is “Brother-in-law” is Paik Gahuim’s third short story collection. For his first book, The Cricket Comes, Paik wrote stories resembling psychological reports recounting the morbid violence of men obsessed with sexual fantasies. These stories were horrible and grotesque, but at the same time bold and lyrical. His style turned in the direction of dry realism for his second collection, Manager Jo’s Trunk. Here, the cold gaze he turned on humble everyday life took the place of any conspicuous violence. Just as in his previous work, the new book features characters who have always lived as outsiders in society, those who “get into the habit of sitting on the edges of their chairs.” So while the protagonists of the eight stories (including a woman in an international marriage, a North Korean defector, a traveling salesman, and a man exposed to a defoliant) are fated to fail and be frustrated in their everyday existence, there is no expectation that their lives will improve in the future.

These stories, however, feature one protagonist who is singular in that he has not appeared in Paik’s previous works. Referred to as either P or Paik, he is featured in a number of the stories. This character is a novelist who has published a novel with a yellow back (the cover of the author’s first publication was yellow), so it is not hard to recognize him as the author. Thus, in this third work, the most important narrator and protagonist is the author himself. Paik has seldom written in the first person, so we can read the emergence of this character as proof that he has started to self-consciously reflect on the significance of his exceptional job, that of writer. But this novel does not lead in the usual direction of meta-fiction to a realm of abstract and conceptual language play which negates the reality of the harsh world. The writer, who records the pain of others, suffers within his novel too. His suffering is not sublimated in intellectual play, but as before, is inclined towards the misery of the world. 

Author's Profile

Paik Gahuim (b. 1974) made his literary debut in 2001 when he won the Seoul Shinmun New Writer’s Award. He is the author of the short story collections, The Cricket Is CryingManager Jo’s Trunk, and The Hint is “Brother-in-law,” as well as the novel, Naphthalene.