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FICTION

A Limitless Imagination at Work: Double by Park Min-gyu

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.11 Spring 2011
  • byKang Yu-jung
Double
2010
620pp.

When I feel frustrated and things aren’t going my way, I bury myself in certain novels to find strength. During sleepless nights I listen to Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” while on melancholy days I listen to Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise Op. 34 No. 14.” Likewise the novels of Park Min-gyu can soothe several days’ worth of suffering. Actually, however, I don’t believe that reading his novels provides comfort. Rather, they are entertaining and a bit racy. But his recent novels make readers pull their heads out of books and take a look out the window, followed by a sudden welling-up of tears.

Double is Park Min-gyu’s second collection of short stories. His first collection was Castella, published in 2005, so the second has been some time coming. The amount of work contained in his second collection is such that two volumes were required. These take an interesting form, which was alluded to by the author when he said that they resembled a double LP. It would be equally safe to say that the volumes resemble two CDs. However, the title “double” doesn’t necessarily refer just to the shape of book. Author Park Min-gyu calls himself, “The guy named me.” He sometimes also says, “I got a little warmer while he got a bit colder.” In other words, “he” and “I” refer to Park Min-gyu as a writer and as a regular person.

This was his starting point as an author. At some point during our teens we come to feel estranged from our childhood selves, especially for the more precocious among us. We learn that each of us contains multiple selves and sometimes feel that there is no such thing as the self. Although it has no concrete form, from time to time the “I” feels pain and that amorphous thing called pride gets badly damaged. The “I” that wakes up in the morning, eats breakfast and goes to the bathroom is different from the former “I,” however. The former “I” may even grow a mouth, and this is when writers are born.

The stories in Double are so varied that readers might wonder if the book was indeed written by a single author. The stories themselves seem to have “doubles,” with some using the grammar of the mystery, martial arts, and the science fiction genre, showcasing Park Min-gyu's unaffected style, while the others show us his more sentimental style of writing through subjects such as dementia, elderly fathers, a dying man, and suicide. Of course, it's up to the reader whether they are warmed or chilled by the stories that are woven from the completely different worlds that the author has calmly created.

When I first read his individual stories released in literary journals, I enjoyed his chillier style. “Temple,” written in the style of a martial arts epic, takes a delightfully cynical view of modern life, while “Rudy” resembles the Book of Revelation from the Bible as it refreshingly wipes the slate of the world clean. Readers will enjoy their discovery of Park Min-gyu’s skill in reinterpreting the norms and language of various genres, and will see how he succeeds in blending the experimental and the conventional.

At the same time, the collection’s other stories such as “Nearby,” “A Boat on a Yellow River,” and "Daytime Nap" will melt the hearts of readers. Despite the cold, snowy winter, this book will keep one company like a friend patting your shoulder. Finally, some of the tales eloquently describe the latter years which readers have yet to reach, depicting the humble wait for the end. There are a great many quotable passages to treasure, such as, “Why doesn’t the art of tumbling work in our lives?”

Books such as this one can make readers feel as if they have a strong mentor supporting them. Although I'm a literary critic, when I’m holding one of Park Min-gyu’s novels I become an innocent reader once again, eyes glistening with tears. Among a sea of novels, Double is a rare gem. If I were marooned with this book, I could read it over and over without getting bored. I express my thanks to the author as it has been such a long time since I have visited worlds so beautiful and sorrowful. Good novels are just like this.