Monday, July 22, 2024

Bite into Monika Kim’s Debut in The Eyes Are The Best Part

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Prepare your stomach; you’ll want to be an adventurous eater for this one. Though on second thought, don’t try this at home. Monika Kim is exploding onto the horror scene with her debut novel The Eyes Are The Best Part. We follow Ji-Won, a Korean-American girl trying her best to adjust to college amidst a tumultuous home life. In the chaos she adopts a fixation from her mother’s cultural lessons: eating fish eyes brings good luck. You can experience the full tale when this arrives from Erewhon Books on June 25th. Read on to figure out why I think you should.

It’s summer. It’s the time for vacation reads. Hear me out, this is a vacation read. It is fast-paced with short chapters, making it ideal for binging or reading in random spots of downtime. It’s a conversation starter, have you seen that cover? But also maybe a deterrent for the wrong company at the beach. Again, have you seen that cover? The only thing really making this not a summer read is how heavy it is. It feels light, I read this so quickly, but it tackles some difficult topics. And I don’t just mean the eyes—we’ll get to those.

Ji-Won’s family is falling apart. Or rather, it has fallen apart. The inciting incident of this novel is the leaving of her father and her mother’s subsequent new boyfriend. Her Appa and this new boyfriend, George, highlight two pervasive cultural hurdles Ji-Won is grappling with as she tries to start her new life. First, from her Appa, we see an unhealthy belief in fate. His basis is the Korean concept of Saju, which tells him he has bad luck. From George, she experiences first hand the fetishization of Asian women, yes. Deeper than that, though, she sees her mother’s fragility and dependence. Combine the two? Ji-Won is struggling.

Which brings us back to the eyes. Her mother is so insistent that eating the fish eye will bring good fortune. And Ji-Won so desperately wants to cheer up her mom after her father leaves that she decides to finally give in. That bite changes everything. If you are squeamish at all about eyes, get ready. The descriptions of eating them, and there are many, are visceral. If you like body horror that has you squirming, this is a must read for those alone. It’s not just eating the eyes, though. Ji-Won starts dreaming about them. Certain eyes in particular. George’s eyes.

The Eyes are the Best Part by Monika Kim

I haven’t seen it discussed yet, but this felt very much like a nod to Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. George’s eyes are blue, after all. An obsession with a man’s blue eyes? An obsession that grows more and more violent? All-consuming? I hope it was intentional, I believe it was, and I loved it. Because those traits Ji-Won sees in her parents, in George and the men like him—they make her angry. She refuses to accept that her fate is set or that she must be grateful for any male attention. Even more, she is angry to see her mother treated so poorly, her sister treated so poorly. 

The Eyes Are The Best Part is a story of rage: feminine rage, cultural rage, obsessive rage. Monika Kim does not shy away from these feelings, just as she does not shy away from her depictions of Ji-Won’s urges. I’ve only scratched the surface here. Kim managed to pack a lot to chew on in this book. And the bites are bloody, delicious, and addictive. Getting to follow this descent into madness, getting to ask if it even qualifies as such, was such a joy. I am truly surprised this was a debut, and cannot wait to see what this author does next. 

Images courtesy of publisher.

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