Like a lot of great thrillers, The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong starts out with the main character waking up to a mess of some kind, one which he doesn’t understand, and one in which he spends the rest of the book putting the pieces together. Although the story started well, it became apparent far too quickly that Yu Jin was an unreliable narrator, so I couldn’t take any of his reasoning and excuses very seriously.
The mess Yu Jin wakes up to is the murder of his mother–someone has cut her throat and blood is everywhere, especially all over his own person. Throughout this story it is amazing that no one in his Seoul apartment complex seems even aware anything is amiss in his apartment, but that’s kind of how life goes sometimes. For being innocent, Yu Jin sure knows how to tidy up the mess and hide the evidence, and then later on it’s obvious he just doesn’t want to admit to himself what he is, a psychopath who will not only kill people he thinks are in his way, but kill people simply because he gets off on their fear. He also is addicted and triggered by the smell of blood, much like a shark.
Yu Jin is shocked partway through the story to find that he doesn’t have epilepsy but a psychopath tendency. But his shock isn’t real, he’s not like Ba Reum from Mouse who genuinely is surprised and remorseful at the awful person he is. People in general are really good at deluding themselves about themselves and why should psychos be any different? The one thing to admire about him is that he wants to live and to live on his own terms. He does feel a sense of obligation to his family, but not so much as to prevent him from killing them. As to him being a “good” son, he clearly was nothing of the sort, though his adopted brother might have been.
I enjoyed the read, but it’s limited in scope and Yu Jin’s is not as interesting as other fictional psychos like Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. Although Ripley is referenced on the cover of this book, The Good Son cannot hold a candle to that chilling masterpiece. And Yu Jin has few of the amusing and exasperating gamma thoughts and behaviors of Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. And the religious aspect does not ring home at all, it’s just there, but offers no food for thought unlike Mouse and C&P. So, although I made it through The Good Son, I found it to be just ok, but not holding its own against better stories of the same genre or similar plots. Maybe it’s better in Korean.
Probably the most thoughtful aspect of the book, was Yu Jin’s family, and how delusional they were about him and about what they could do for him. Clearly, he should have been under care of some kind a long time ago and kept away from society. Yes, Yu Jin maybe had no life, or at least not the life he wanted, but neither did his mother. Her sudden adoption of his friend is her grabbing what she sees as a life line. The adopted brother is someone Yu Jin views in a better light than is warranted. I think it could have to do with Yu Jin’s desire to be out in the world and that his brother goes out in the world all the time. His mother does not; his aunt does not. But, with almost all of the other characters, Yu Jin makes a number of assumptions that are either lies he’s telling both the readers and himself, or are simply flat out wrong. Even at the end of the book, it’s obvious he really doesn’t know, he’s just assuming and imagining things to be a certain way, and it’s more pitiful than chilling.
Better, more thrilling stories of this nature are: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Atonement by Ian McEwan, and the Korean drama Mouse starring Lee Seung Gi.