My Clint Eastwood, by Oh Han-Ki was perhaps the most difficult of the ASIA Publishers K-Fiction series for me to read, partly because for my entire life Clint Eastwood has been an icon to me and one of the things that Oh Han-ki ruthlessly explores is the difference between the concept of the “icon” and the thing that lives behind that icon. And in this case, the thing that lives behind the icon is a rather ratty version of the icon itself.
The narrator works at rather shabby guesthouse while waiting for his uncle to die, and is a fan of both Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen (there are some funny comparative scenes around this. As the author admits with no uncertainty, he is much more of a Woody Allenish nebbish – minus the cute girlfriends – than a Clint Eastwood.
Eastwood is on the run from Hollywood and apparently dead broke, also, for some reason, carrying a gun as though he were still living in a movie. Like all the books in this series, the authors are happily freed from exact accuracy, and it makes the story all that more interesting. The story is chock full of amusing anecdotes, that true or not, stand alone as little stories of their own, and are recounted by the narrator in truly amusing fashion
Eastwood stays and essentially stultifies the hell out of the narrator with stories no one would want to listen to, engages in boring yet vaguely sleazy behavior, and disappears for some time. Eastwood comes back with steak and a hooker, and there is scene of some pathos as, with Eastwood unconscious from alcohol, the hooker comes to talk to the narrator, all the while and old Eastwood movie plays in the background.
All of this allows Oh to contemplate where image and reality coincide and when the narrator’s uncle dies, he cashes in the guesthouse and finally goes to Texas and searches for Eastwood at a bar Eastwood claimed to have frequented (a bar that no longer exists), the story actually turns into a kind of western, in which the slight narrator is about to get into a fight and Eastwood shows up and ends the fight in classic Eastwood fashion, with a gun pointed at a villain (PLEASE read the critical analysis of this book, as it manages to get that spectacularly wrong calling it evidence that the western is now “dead. There’s just an amazing amount of critical palaver in the essay in this particular book) and the promise of a stepdown or a showdown.
Oh’s writing is brilliant, although at the outset there is an uncertain moment where Oh decides to describe Eastwood’s changed look and feel as having to do with hormonal change, and it jars with the rest of the text, as it seems dropped in from a biology textbook and doesn’t seem to serve any function in the story. It’s the kind of passage that always makes me wish the Korean publishing system had more focusing on editing somewhere along its line.
In any case, Oh performs a beautiful inversion of and meditation on the “character” of Eastwood, tells amusing stories throughout (normally unlikely anecdotes from Eastwood himselfO, and ends on what I read as a kind of appropriate note for both main characters, giving them their essential humanities and hopes (which has been true of Dinner With Buffet and Arpan as well, something I kind of appreciate about this series).
The Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature was awesome – it covered a lot of the history of modern Korean fiction, but the K-Fiction series seems to want to go beyond merely awesome and combine a kind of cutting edge literature.
BTW… if you like this series, these books, these publishers? Please go to the Asia Publishers FB Page and give them a “like.”
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