Review of ‘The Law of Lines’

By Ryan C. Bradley

The Law of Lines
The Law of Lines by Hye-Young Pyun
Image Credit: Edelweiss

Winner of several of Korea’s top literary awards, The Law of Lines follows the parallel stories of two young women whose lives are upended by the sudden loss. When Se-oh, a recluse still living with her father, returns from an errand to find their house in flames, wrecked by a gas explosion, she is forced back into the world she had tried to escape. Ki-Jeong, a beleaguered high school teacher, receives a phone call that the body of her younger half-sister has just been found. Though her death is considered a suicide by the police, that does not satisfy Ki-Jeong, and she goes to her sister’s university to find out what happened. Her sister’s cell phone reveals a thicket of lies and links to a company that lures students into a virtual pyramid scheme, preying on them and their relationships. One of the contacts in the call log is Se-oh.

Published by Arcade, The Law of Lines by Hye-Young Pyun is a “a Slow-Burning Thriller about Unseen Forces that Shape Us and Debts We Accumulate, in Life, in Death.

The Law of Lines by Hye-Young Pyun excels when the story digs into the gritty details of the character’s lives. Sentences like, “Until becoming a teacher, [Ki-jeong had] never realized that it meant only occasional teaching and frequent busywork” establish both Ki-Jeong’s character and a sense of realism. These razor-sharp observations keep coming throughout The Law of Lines, going beyond careers, and eventually helping readers to understand grief better.

Sometimes these thoughts belong to the characters. Other times an unidentified narrator slips into the story, writing things like, “Of course , if [Se-oh had] actually found the courage to lift up her head and look, she would have seen that the others barely registered her presence, but she couldn’t manage it.” The way Pyun sneaks past the close-third person point of view to judge her characters is reminiscent of the late great Shirley Jackson.

The authenticity in those observations and judgments pulls readers deeper into the exciting part of the story: Ki-Jeong’s and Se-oh’s parallel investigations. Both are probing the death of a lost loved one. While their physical journeys are very different, they are both learning how little they knew about their families.

Throughout those investigations in The Law of Lines, Pyun subverts reader expectations for a thriller. Where a more generic story would step right, she makes a point of stepping left. It makes the story harder to predict but also harder to follow.

The Law of Lines is easy to get lost in for other reasons as well. The narrative distance and point of view are constantly shifting, keeping readers off-balance. There are frequent, unintroduced extended flashbacks that interrupt the flow of the present-day narrative.

All in all, The Law of Lines overcomes those shortcomings. It is a compelling thriller that uses a familiar story frame to interrogate the way grief shapes our lives. (★★★☆☆)

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Product Details:

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

Page count: 288pp

Age Range: 18 & Over

ISBN: 978-1-9489-2496-2

Publisher: Arcade

List Price: $24.99


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