‘Cursed Bunny’ from Korea’s Bora Chung presents uncanny pleasures


Curse Bunny: Tales

By Bora Chung
Translated by Anton Hur
Algonquin: 256 pages, $18

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During the last couple of many years, literary fiction has more and more unhinged its jaws to gulp down style fiction, creating new, lumpy hybrids — Stephen Graham Jones’ bloodily stitched collectively literary slashers; Susanna Clarke’s magic potion of epic fantasy and realism; Kate Atkinson’s sliding doorways of historic fiction and time journey.

South Korean novelist Bora Chung’s first translated work, the quick story assortment “Cursed Bunny,” is an instance of the brand new amalgamated norm. Drawing from Korean folktale and Chung’s experience as a Slavic literature professor, the narratives right here shamble and ooze throughout a porous divide between intellectual absurdism and lowbrow leap scare. The stability adjustments from story to story, and typically the style conventions really feel too pat, as style conventions will. However the extra predictable moments set you as much as miss a vital step and fall proper into the abyss when Chung will get bizarre.

Over the course of the gathering Chung dabbles in science fiction, fantasy, fable and horror. The final is her commonest mode. She’s particularly keen on an EC Comics/”Sixth Sense” type twist, wherein you study that an necessary character is lifeless, or a ghost, or unreal. Chung makes use of that trick in half of the 10 picks right here — sufficient that it ceases to be a shock and begins feeling like an irritant or a cop-out. Reasonably than disorienting you, the last-minute flip of narrative actuality turns into so anticipated it’s nearly comforting. As in (the much less fascinating variations of) style, you recognize what’s coming.

The sense of tropes clicking into the same old locations is probably strongest in “Goodbye, My Love,” a narrative about an android companion that does what any “Frankenstein” reader would count on a narrative about an android companion to do.

Much less rote, but in addition nicely inside style expectations, is the title story, narrated by the youngest member of a household that makes cursed objects and sics considered one of them on a grasping villain. The rabbit of the title is an ensorcelled lamp, which wreaks vengeance as ruthlessly and inevitably as an on-screen murderer — albeit with much less slashing and extra nose-wriggling. As in murderer tales, the instrument of vengeance should additionally endure; ultimately, the narrator expresses satisfaction in realizing their household line has no inheritor: “In this twisted, wretched life of mine, that single fact remains my sole consolation.” The story concludes with the satisfying click on of a bunny-light going out, or a entice closing.

The anticipated conclusion has its pleasures. However Chung’s writing is stronger when she leans towards literary fiction’s extra open varieties and pursues odder ends. In “The Head,” a younger lady finds a disembodied head in her bathroom which claims to be the product of her waste. In “The Embodiment,” one other younger lady takes too many contraception capsules and finally ends up turning into pregnant.

In each these tales, as in Kafka, there’s horror within the preliminary set-up. However (additionally as in Kafka) what’s actually disturbing is the way in which that others — members of the family, docs, passersby — deal with the nightmare as regular. It’s a form of mass gaslighting, wherein girls are blamed for his or her worry, confusion and disgust. “You’re the one who overdid it with the pills; it’s your own fault,” an obstetrician snaps in “The Embodiment.”

Equally, in “The Head,” the ladies’s household tells her to simply ignore the half-formed factor in the bathroom that calls her “mother.” She works to try this for virtually her complete life, which within the story turns into a tedious journey from bathroom to bathroom. Ladies, the story implies, are handled —and inspired to deal with themselves — like waste. “What have you given me besides your feces and trash?” the pinnacle asks. Even anger is simply extra abject extra, to be flushed away uselessly and memorialized solely by a shiver of disgust.

“The Head” has the texture of a literary traditional, unfolding with the centered energy of a delusion. Fantastic as it’s, although, I don’t assume it’s the excessive level of the gathering. That will be a 50-page lengthy story referred to as “Scars.”

“Scars” opens with the kidnapping of a anonymous baby, who’s tossed right into a cave. There he’s ravaged by a bird-like monster that sinks its beak into his backbone to feed, forsaking hideous triangular scars. The boy grows up within the lightless void earlier than managing to flee. However he’s instantly captured by an unscrupulous bald man who has him combat rabid canine in an area. From there … nicely, issues don’t get any higher.

“Scars” is paying homage to Amos Tutuola’s “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” — a picaresque hallucination wherein one horror stumbles into one other in a jumble of supernatural confusion. However it’s ultimately akin to nothing else: a sealed, sprawling mess of a narrative, with parts of folks story, dream and traumatic reminiscence, instructed in easy prose that makes the fantastical cruelties really feel each extra vivid and extra unreal.

“The strangers who stole his childhood with their sorcerer and beliefs, the despondent life he had lived on the brink of death, it had all been meaningless in the end,” the protagonist realizes towards the story’s conclusion. Style’s utility for literary fiction lies partly in its capacity so as to add construction, propulsion, which means. However mixing modes and influences may also trigger electrifying static, breaking down the formal expectations of each pulp and literature with extra intellectual aspirations. From the ensuing meaninglessness, with the panorama cleared of apparent paths, “Cursed Bunny” at its greatest units out throughout the rubble to seek out new floor — and nibble it away.

Berlatsky is a contract author in Chicago