Scary and smart: "The Hole" is horror and more
I don’t typically read books out of the horror section, but then again, categorizing the sprawling bundle of thoughts that make up a novel into just one of a handful of neat genres is not an easy task.
Of course, my latest impulse read—Hye-Young Pyun’s "The Hole"— is a far cry from typical.
The recently-translated novel binds the reader to the perspective of a man trying to recover from a devastating car wreck. He’s lost not only his wife, but also his ability to move and speak. It caught my eye thanks to an intriguing cover design that sticks out like a sore thumb next to the horror shelves' status quo of darker, bloodier fronts .
As different as it may be, make no mistake— "The Hole" fully deserves its place next to these macabre tales.
There are a number of classic stories that begin to approximate Hye-Young Pyun’s direction. Stephen King’s "Misery" springs to mind first, being the closest plot concept with a few similar captivity-related conventions that pop up. For totally non-insect-related reasons, Franz Kafka’s "The Metamorphosis," however, is The Hole’s strongest literary relative.
Ogi, a decently well-off professor of cartography, wakes from a coma to find his world utterly transformed. The reader spends a great deal of time in Ogi’s headspace as he grapples with his new, confined life, pitting hope against despair. At the same time, he tells the story of his marriage to his late wife, unraveling haunting clues one by one. Pyun masterfully dials up the looming sense of unease (both in a physical and psychological sense) as the pages fly by.
Rooting for Ogi is irresistible. At the same time, our understanding of his flaws grow constantly as we see more of his then-aloof treatment of his wife. She wasn’t perfect either, though, becoming strangely obsessed with digging in their yard.
Though there aren’t many characters in "The Hole," Ogi’s newfound caregiver—his mother in-law—stands as one of the best I’ve read in quite some time. Her enigmatic, but perhaps well-meaning behavior will give you the heeby jeebies, while also allowing consideration of her as a person—and not just a monster. There’s a funny nugget of commentary in Pyun’s choice, too, pointing to the culturally cliched fear of the mother in law.
She isn't the only bogeyman, though. Pyun’s writing injects paranoia through the pages, making every character seem ominous; every mundane choice seems like part of a malicious, unseen masterplan.
Not only is "The Hole" potent psychological horror, it’s reflectively-written literary fiction at the same time.
Ogi’s musings on his life, replete with both regret and resilience, carry deep meaning and are a pleasure to read by themselves. And when the monsters really start to come out of the closet—so to speak—the horror is all the more delirious and knuckle-whitening for it. Like most horror narratives, the ending is key, and "The Hole" delivers in spades.
Pyun is a promising new voice to know, whether you’re looking to be horrified or not. At any rate, you’ll appreciate your mother in law just a bit more.
— Eli Hoelscher is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.