No­body Checks the Time When They’re Happy

Heekyung Eun Am­ber Kim (Trans­la­tor) White Pine Press (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $16 (190pp) 978-1-945680-08-3

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Eun’s fic­tion con­trasts fa­mil­ial or so­ci­etal obli­ga­tions with an un­der­tow of er­ratic im­pulse or emo­tion.

No­body Checks the Time When They’re Happy, a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries by Heekyung Eun, peers into the lives of var­i­ous South Kore­ans and forms its own small uni­verse of poignance

and melan­choly, won­der­fully in­ter­spersed with off­beat hu­mor.

Eun’s char­ac­ters are bound by com­mon na­tion­al­ity and cul­ture, which some­times pro­vides a uni­fy­ing sta­bil­ity yet also cre­ates feel­ings of con­flict and con­fine­ment. There is an em­pha­sis upon sub­tle ges­tures or mo­ments, but the scope of the fic­tion me­an­ders about ap­peal­ingly while main­tain­ing a com­pact ten­sion.

In “An Ob­vi­ously Im­moral Love,” a young woman’s re­la­tion­ship with a mar­ried man par­al­lels her fa­ther’s sur­pris­ing ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair. An­other young woman cares for her hap­less mother, once quite beau­ti­ful with high ex­pec­ta­tions from life, now dy­ing of cancer and ut­terly baf­fled by her fate. Bar owner Hye-lin en­joys serv­ing cus­tomers and lis­ten­ing to their con­fes­sions—but she only wants to hear sad sto­ries, since the oth­ers seem mean­ing­less and for­get­table.

In “The Other Side of the World,” a man trav­els from from Seoul to Brazil to at­tend his mur­dered un­cle’s fu­neral, en­coun­ter­ing mul­tira­cial São Paulo with a de­tached and oc­ca­sion­ally sur­real con­fu­sion. And in the comic and quirky “Sum­mer Is Fleet­ing,” a trio of thirty-some­thing male room­mates live amid beer bot­tles and gen­eral squalor, un­em­ployed, un­mo­ti­vated, and wear­ing sweaty Su­per­man t-shirts. They also share a de­tached ob­ses­sion with their mys­te­ri­ous fe­male neigh­bor, who has an In­ter­net user­name of LIAR and who looks like “a cross be­tween a news an­chor­woman and a cult leader.”

Eun’s fic­tion con­trasts fa­mil­ial or so­ci­etal obli­ga­tions with an un­der­tow of er­ratic im­pulse or emo­tion. The Ky­obo Build­ing’s huge elec­tronic bill­board ad­vises ev­ery­one to work like an ant be­cause sum­mer is fleet­ing, yet within the same area, drunken men “stag­ger from a dark­ened al­ley like mag­gots crawl­ing out of a roasted ch­est­nut.” A young wife has made the ap­pro­pri­ate mar­riage to a “quiet, ner­vous” and be­spec­ta­cled re­searcher, but she ne­glects her do­mes­tic du­ties to visit Hye-lin’s bar, the only place where her oth­er­wise in­tense anx­i­ety goes away.

Quizzi­cal and en­gag­ingly var­ied, the sto­ries No­body Checks The Time When They’re

Happy res­onate with mem­o­rable char­ac­ters and di­a­logue, and of­fer an in­trigu­ing glimpse into con­tem­po­rary South Korea.

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