Kyung Choís carefully constructed life just outside the city of Boston is forever altered on the day he and his wife discuss selling their three-bedroom home with a realtor.
He is unaware of the impending implosion, feeling only the embarrassment of his failure to provide for his wife, Gillian, and their
four-year-old son, Nathan. A college professor on the tenure track, Kyung has created a family of his own, not far from the affluent neighborhood of his father and mother, Jin and Mae, but worlds apart psychologically.
Kyung has left an unhappy childhood behind, proud of Gillianís assertiveness
as opposed to his motherís acquiescence to a domineering husband. He and Gillian are precise in their parenting, although perhaps too protective. Unfortunately, Kyung has not made wise decisions in his efforts to give Gillian--who is studying for a Masterís in school counseling--with everything she wants. The too-expensive house is now a burden, a succession of poor financial decisions draining family resources, in sharp contrast to the luxurious Victorian home so beautifully decorated by his mother for Jin, a respected college professor.
As the couple considers their thin market prospects with the garrulous realtor, tragedy appears on the horizon just outside the length of their backyard, an event so shocking that the families of both father and son scramble to cope with extraordinary circumstances. The small three-bedroom house Kyung was hoping to sell suddenly becomes a refuge for his parents, the luxury of distance--emotional and geographic--no longer possible as the old couple moves, at least temporarily into Kyungís home.
Kyung has been grateful for Gillianís accommodation to his natural reticence, content to follow her lead though often avoiding confrontation when he disagrees rather than engage in a losing argument. His fiery Irish wife has chosen him in spite of her familyís subtle rejection, her father, Connie, and brother, Tim, outspoken police officers who make few attempts to hide their disappointment in Gillianís choice of husband. Suddenly, both men are drawn into the unfolding drama, Kyung surrounded by people, unable to get his bearings or come to terms with the terrible thing that has shattered the lives of his parents, a son thrust back into the chaos of childhood, buried resentments flaring in the proximity of the two people who have shaped his perspective of the world.
The unleashing of the past and the brutal reality of the present is claustrophobic, years of pain in danger of spilling into the small space where two generations currently coexist. As Gillian tries to meet the immediate needs of her distressed in-laws, generously offering comfort, her husbandís actions grow more difficult to parse. Though she knows some of his history, his coolness toward both mother and father seems unfair, unnecessarily cruel. Her attempts to broker peace are rejected. Kyung draws into himself, locked in silence as he vacillates between memories and the opportunity to bridge the distance between each parent. Ironically, it is Gillianís father, Connie, who tells him ďitís hard to be happy when you donít know what itís supposed to look likeĒ.
Violence begets violence, reason stifled by rage and the urge for revenge as a son learns the futility of burying damage with silence, a brutal event precipitating the honesty born of desperation. The images are indelible: black and blue, blood red, the darkness of rage, the pale aura of fear, the whimper of helplessness, and the joyful laugh of a child playing with his grandfather. There are limits to the amount that can be repressed, no matter how inappropriate the time or place, two people ďdrawn together by a force that should have kept them close, but repelled them insteadĒ. No one escapes unscathed
as the wrecking ball smashes the painted walls of two houses, two generations. The writing is fearless, with the same jangling intensity of Andre Dubus IIIís
House of Sand and Fog, an explosion of tradition, values and aspirations that finally frees a wounded soul trapped by the prison of his history.