Saturday, November 12, 2022

O Beautiful by Jung Yun


Elinor grew up in North Dakota, the child of a military man and his Korean wife brought back from an overseas assignment.  She was tall and gangly and mocked and bullied by her classmates as a half breed and other racial epitaphs.  But her height was her ticket out as she was discovered as a model right out of high school.  She took off as soon as she could and never looked back.  Now, her modeling days behind her, she is trying to make it as a freelance journalist.  

Her mentor and former lover has put a big assignment in her way.  He is having surgery and will be out of things for a while so suggests her as a substitute to a large magazine that is doing a feature on the oil boom in North Dakota.  It's the first time Elinor has been back and she barely recognizes the place where she grew up.

Now it is flooded by a massive influx of men and money.  Women are outnumbered and catcalled everywhere.  Elinor feels less safe here than in all her years of city living in New York.  The men are bold, violent and often drunk.  There is an air of sexual violence in the air and women have been disappearing.  But her editor insists that the story is that of the oil money itself and the way it has changed the local population.

As Elinor works on her article, she starts to question everything she knows.  Her sister has stayed in the area and their relationship is strained.  She is also trying to reinvent herself as she enters middle age.  Elinor questions why her mentor gave her this amazing opportunity.  Was it because he valued her work or some more sinister reason?  Does she even want to be a journalist or should she try something else?

This is Jung Yun's second novel and it is a New York Times Editor's Choice Book.  She explores how our relationships and even our memories change over time and the difficulty of looking backward and reconnecting with anything or anyone from our past.  She also writes about how people of color are treated in the United States where they are automatically considered by the majority as lessor than.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

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