Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sang Pak explores the darkness within

It’s easy to ignore evil when your life hasn’t been touched by it, but what do you do when it has? Do you just walk away or will it haunt you until you face it? And what if the darkness is in you?

American writer Sang Pak’s debut novel Wait until twilight explores the influence of dark impulses on sixteen-year-old Samuel, an intelligent and intuitive teenager whose world is shaken when he encounters a set of deformed triplets hidden behind closed doors in his sleepy southern town.

Samuel is repulsed by the “freaks” and his reaction – and the dark thoughts he has towards the babies – haunt him for days afterward.

But when he attempts to atone for these thoughts – to prove to himself he’s a not monster – he’s confronted by true evil in the form of the twins’ adult brother Daryl. Daryl is menacing, brutal and obsessed with using Samuel’s inner turmoil for his own ends.

Samuel’s usual defence is to find a single focus and wipe everything else out of his head. He feels most normal when he feels nothing. But while that seems to have helped him suppress his grief for his mother, he can’t suppress the reality of the deformed triplets.

He tries to turn his back on the disturbed household, but he’s haunted by the triplets and the threat Daryl poses to them, and ultimately decides the only way to confront his own darkness is to save the defenceless babies.

His response to them is all the more amplified by the fact his friend David seems unperturbed by them: the triplets and their unbalanced mother are just another of life’s oddities – nothing to disturb his thoughts beyond the moment.

Wait until twilight has elements of J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, as Samuel starts to react to the world around him in increasingly confusing ways – his own world of ordered focus starts to crumble, and we wonder if he might actually be descending into madness.

But, just as the violent encounters with Daryl disturb and conflict him, relationships in his “normal” world provide balance and help Samuel transform into the man he wants – and needs – to be.

Pak creates a dark undercurrent throughout the story that ensures a sense of menace pervades every page, even when Samuel is relaxed. The idea that seediness and darkness lurk just out of sight is not new - particularly in American fiction - but Pak's approach is powerful in its understatement.

In Samuel’s home town, the seedier side of human nature is indulged in back woods cabins only a stone’s throw from suburbia. That reality leads Samuel to assume the only way the rest of his community can be “normal” is to pretend there’s nothing terrible in the world - a luxury he no longer has.

Wait until twilight features a strong and confident narrative voice. Samuel is a likable and sympathetic character; he's masculine without being overtly fuelled by testosterone, and his inner struggles are compelling and believable.

Pak has created a novel that's at times deeply disturbing, but ultimately redemptive, and I suspect its characters will continue to stay with me for many weeks to come.

Next post: a Q&A with Sang Pak.


Anonymous said...

Wow - great review and I'll keep an eye out for this one.

Charley said...

Nice review. This sounds like such an interesting book, and I hope to read it soon.