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Excerpt from Skinship by Yoon Choi, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Yoon Choi

Skinship by Yoon Choi X
Skinship by Yoon Choi
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  • Published:
    Aug 2021, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Tasneem Pocketwala
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

The church of abundant life

Soo occupies the high stool behind the register as her husband, Jae, brings in the cartons of eggs, the infant formula, the glue traps, the dried beans, the Little Debbie cakes, the single rolls of toilet paper, the strawberry cigars, the Jamaican castor oil, the yellow boxes of S.O.S. steel wool, the cough syrup, the cereal, the hydroquinone cream, the little glass pipes of love roses, the foil-capped plastic barrel drinks called Little Hugs that their customers call grenades. It is a Wednesday. On Wednesdays, Jae restocks the store.

"Just see this," he says to her in Korean, setting down a final stack of boxes. "Would you just take a look at this?" He takes a Chosun Ilbo from the top of a box and slaps it on the counter. She does not put up the reading glasses that she wears on a chain around her neck. Without them, she can only discern that what Jae has put in front of her is some kind of an ad.

Men, she says to herself in consolation.

Soo knows that if Jae has a Korean newspaper, he must have dropped by Mr. Ro's corner store three blocks over. She can practically see the two of them, smoking and conferring on the concrete stoop. She knows their topics of conversation. The price of milk. North and South Korean politics. The Pennsylvania lotto. What worries her is when this talk results in a business idea. There was the time Jae and Mr. Ro drove back from the wholesalers on Broadway with a trunkload of weaves and wigs. She met the car at the curb with her arms crossed. There was just one thing she wanted to know. How much?

Ten thousand dollars, said Jae. Not to worry, they had used money from the kye.

Ten thousand dollars! The sum was so large that it didn't strike her conscious mind so much as her conscience. That was the thing about the kye. Jae saw it as free money, and she saw it for what it was: a revolving loan. She grabbed a wig and shook it at Jae. She said with passion that no woman wanted cheap fake hair. Even poor black women didn't want cheap fake hair. What women wanted was real hair, human hair, virgin Remy hair. And wasn't she right. Didn't those unsold wigs sit in their basement for years in black garbage bags until the mice got to them.

She is moved to action. She drops off the stool, comes around the counter, and pokes through the boxes and bags that Jae has brought in. She puts on her glasses, but she doesn't address the paper on the counter. Instead, she holds up a jar of baby food and does a quick check of the ingredient list. Ground chicken, water, cornstarch. She picks up a carton of eggs, saying, "These aren't brown, right? Remember what happened with the WIC vouchers and the brown eggs?"

Since these are not real questions but gestures, she doesn't immediately notice that Jae is not responding. The front door bangs open, and a man makes his way to the register. "Telestial," he says, and Soo goes behind the counter to unhook a calling card, which hangs on a pegboard beside the three-pack condoms. Puerto Rican, she thinks automatically.

The man leaves. Only then does she realize that Jae is in a state of absorption. It is so unusual for him to just stand at the counter, staring at a paper in the middle of a workday, that she looks at him sharply. Certain small things about him spring to her notice. The side-parted hair that he keeps a home-dyed black. The fishing vest with many pockets, where he keeps coins, keys, a utility knife, and a lighter. The clearish cluster of asbestos warts on the hand beside the paper. "Good old Ki-tae," he says. "That poor son of a bitch."

She can't believe she has heard him correctly. Ki-tae? Hong Ki-tae?

She seeks her glasses at her throat and on the top of her head before realizing that they are on her face. She glances at the paper, and then, because Jae is there, she quickly looks away. She has not seen much more than the background of the ad, a small black-and-white speaker's photo, and the word "Revival," but she feels both excited and ridiculous.

Excerpted from Skinship by Yoon Choi. Copyright © 2021 by Yoon Choi. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Beyond the Book:
  Skinship in Korean Culture

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