The setup’s like something out of Cornell Woolrich: A young man, Yu-jin, wakes up one morning to find his mother has been savagely murdered downstairs. He has little memory of what happened last night — he suffers occasional seizures when he goes off his meds — but all the evidence seems to point to him as the murderer. Just to be on the safe side, he sets to work clearing up the mess and hiding the body before his adoptive brother, Hae-jin, gets home; at the same time he tries to find a way through the tangled mental undergrowth that obstructs his access to his own memories . . .
For the first one-third or so of The Good Son it seemed to me that Jeong, having coming up with such an excellent opening scenario, was flailing around a bit as she tried to work out what to do with it. But I was being misled by my own preconceptions, the preconceptions I’d formed through making the mental connection with Woolrich. As soon as I came to the part where Yu-jin manages to start exploring his memories, both of last night and of his childhood, aided by a journal he discovers of his mother’s, I realized Jeong’s intentions were quite different from those I’d anticipated. From then on I was carried along by the novel as if by a powerful current.
The Good Son offers us a glimpse into the heart of darkness. I can understand the comparisons that have been made to the work of Patricia Highsmith (although stylistically the two writers are worlds apart) and, on another, distinctly distant hand, Stephen King. (A cover quote suggests the novel’s reminiscent of Jo Nesbo’s fiction, a comparison that’s just plain bonkers.) Chi-Young Kim’s translation, despite one or two instances of seeming over-literalness, serves Jeong pretty well to give us a highly readable narrative. I’m very much looking forward to more of Jeong’s novels appearing in translation.