The highwayman goes driving, driving ...The moment I finished reading Choe In-ho’s “Deep Blue Night,” I flipped back to the beginning and started reading it again. It wasn’t that I thought I had missed something; I just wanted to experience it all one more time and I couldn’t wait.?
The vivid imagery of Mr. Choe’s prose is the first thing that jumps out.?His account of the characters’ rambling journey down the California coast on Highway 1 made me feel like I was back behind the wheel of any one of the claptrap vehicles ― the first, a ’67 Dodge given to me by my grandfather ― that I’ve driven along the same highway. The memories return as Mr. Choe describes how the approaching road signs rush by “at a frenzied pace, giving the illusion that the expressway itself and not the car was moving along at a frightening speed.”? Gilroy, Prunedale, Santa Rita, Salinas ― all seem familiar, but I’ve never stopped in any of them. Mr. Choe captures the details of the old highway beautifully.
But the road trip is only a device, a symbol of the characters’ journey to find themselves.? In a relatively short space (65 pages), Mr. Choe gives the main character and his partner on the journey, Jun-ho, impressive depth and color. The main character struggles with his “desperate, pent-up anger” as he struggles to read the map and keep them on course. He’s a successful writer back in Korea, but he says can’t stand the sight of his sentences in print. Most people are awed by California’s wonders ― Yosemite, Death Valley ― the first time they see them, but not the main character. He can’t be awed, the only emotion he can feel is rage. Jun-ho, the driver, is a picture of pathetic loneliness. A popular singer back home at one time, he was banned from the stage and ostracized for using marijuana. Since then, he has basically drifted, eventually leaving his wife and children behind to come to America. But he spends most of his time in the United States smoking marijuana, making collect calls to friends in Korea and listening to a recording of his wife and children on his car’s tape deck.
The second story in the slim volume is “The Poplar Tree,” a whimsical tale about hero worship and growing up that smudges the line between fantasy and reality. The main character is the village blacksmith, whom is admired for his jumping ability, which he loses (after his three children drown and his wife goes mad and runs off) and then regains. It lacks the gritty detail and well-developed characters of “Deep Blue Night,” but is a fun and inspiring read.
by Dylan Alford