cover image Flowers of Mold

Flowers of Mold

Ha Seong-nan, trans. from the Korean by Janet Hong. Open Letter, $15.95 trade paper (212p) ISBN 978-1-940953-96-0

The characters in this stellar collection from Ha, her American debut, live at the edge of normalcy, flirting with the strange and unsettling while going about their everyday routines. “The Woman Next Door” sees a mother slowly lose control of her family and short-term memory after befriending her new neighbor. “The Retreat” begins as a tale concerning commercial tenants rallying to stop their landlord from demolishing their building before evolving into a story of murder. In the harrowing “Nightmare,” a young woman believes she is a victim of a sexual assault, yet her parents try to convince her she dreamt the incident, and in the lighter “Early Beans,” a man agrees to deliver a package for an injured moped messenger and ventures into the unknown. Ha sets many of her narratives in the unbearable heat of spring and summer, which adds to the environment and engages the senses, so, for example, when the main character of the title story sifts through a woman’s trash, the odor of rotted food twists round his attempts to learn more about her. Likewise, in “Flag,” an electrical repairman battles the temperature as he uncovers the mystery of a local power outage. This impressive collection reveals Ha’s close attention to the eccentricities of life, and is sure to earn her a legion of new admirers. (Apr.)