The short story Stab (Stab Wound in literal translation) is something kind of different for Kim In-suk, at least in translation, as it is based in Korea – Kim is one of the few authors in Korea who routinely sites her stories overseas. It is also very short – only 53 pages of the book are story, and half of that is the story in Hangul, as this is part of the Bilingual Edition Modern Korean Literature Collection.
In one sense it is a string of anecdotes in a man’s life: he commutes; he witnesses an accident; he gets drunk; he gets momentarily arrested for a crime he didn’t commit; he has an unhappy marriage; he sleeps with the victim of the crime he didn’t commit; finally he remembers his youth.
In another sense it is a metaphor of journey with symbols including long commutes, treadmills, and long-distance running (while a child). In yet another sense, and a traditionally female Korean one for writers of this era, it is a description of the loveless road of marriage in Korea.
It is these things in the story of a man who fought, for a very long time, to become a tenured professor at a national university (a position of some quite high esteem in Korea) and has finally achieved his goal.
These incidents, symbols and, ultimately, unhappy success story are interesting as a snapshot of Korea at a time when it has really begun to achieve its goals. Kim began to write in 1983, although it is one of the unfortunate features of this series of books that it never tells us precisely when the stories we are reading were published. Kim combines an anti-materialist and feminist message, suggesting that not only is the struggle for success endless once it begins, even temporal achievements within that struggle can be stripped of their meaning by either the endless nature of struggle, or carelessness in choosing what it is you attempt to achieve. Weaved into this is a matter-of-factly descriptive account of the sexual politics of this kind of success, with marriages nearly expected to be loveless, affairs with no meaning and laced with overtones of violence also to be expected, and all human connections severed.
When Stab ends, with one last metaphor of the endless struggle, and how that struggle seems as individuals come to an end, Kim has in a very brief number of pages, painted a picture of loss of communication, loss of love, and worst of all, loss of self.
Really, I think the Korean title, Stab Wound, would have been better here, because Kim really does spend her time tracing out the damages that remain, even after the initial stab has been made.
On an unrelated note – I have met Kim In-suk at least twice and find, as with some other authors of this kind of work (Krys Lee pops to mind, as does Kim Hye-sook), that she is as charming and friendly as can be, and if you had no idea of her work you’d suspect that she was an ex-cheerleader who had gone into some kind of people-related line of work, just because she thought life was so darned grand and fun.
LOL, then you’d read her work.^^
Worth picking up for a short read. If you’d like to read something a bit longer, I can heartily recommend Kim’s The Long Road, which KTLIT reviewed here.