R.O. Kwon's second novel, Exhibit, is a searing study of art, desire, and bodily and intellectual freedom. Northern California photographer Jin Han earned notoriety for her triptychs depicting "religious people in states of worship." Given her lapsed Christian faith and her inclusion of self-portraits copying her subjects' poses, she has received hate mail and a boycott. Jin then questions her own motives: "did I, by reviving what I grieved, risk indulging in tragic kitsch?" Interspersed in the narrative are anguished letters to a God she no longer believes in.

Doubt divides Jin from her devout parents in Seoul, while sexual needs drive her and her husband, Philip, apart. In the opening scene, Jin is immediately drawn to fellow Korean American Lidija Jung, an injured ballet dancer, at a party. Lidija shares Jin's interest in BDSM, which Philip is reluctant to explore. Moreover, Philip has decided he wants a baby, but Jin prefers to remain childfree. Little surprise, then, that Jin becomes increasingly intimate with Lidija, her muse. A new project even showcases the bruises and blood from their encounters. Soon, Jin is called back to Korea when her mother is hospitalized--an incident Jin's vestigial religious mindset leads her to interpret as punishment.

Kwon's sentences are like grenades, carefully wrought and concentrated with meaning. Staccato phrasing and poetic vocabulary allow Kwon (The Incendiaries)  to pack much into this intense novel's short length. Though the prose threatens to overwhelm a somewhat familiar plot, the focus on art and independence, as well as the bisexual representation, make this stand out. It's ideal reading for fans of Melissa Broder, Teju Cole, and Brandon Taylor. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Powered by: Xtenit