Shelter, Jung Yun, author; Raymond Lee, narrator
A dysfunctional family completely comes apart after a brutal home invasion. Each member of the family carried far too much baggage to cope with their emotions and the shame they felt about certain incidents in their lives; add rage to that mix and you have the setting for a disaster. The novel begins in a suburb not far from Boston.
Kyung Cho, a professor, is the son of Mae and Jin Cho, who is also a professor. They are a very wealthy family. He is their only child and is first generation American. His parents’ marriage had been arranged in Korea. It was not a love match. There was psychological and physical abuse in his home which Kyung not only witnessed, but he was also a victim. There was little show of affection and a lack of communication in the family. Kyung became a quiet boy and grew into a quiet man who exhibited control and little outward emotion. He was expected to be obedient, and respectful. He job was to honor his parents above all. At school, as the odd man out, he often felt uncomfortable. He was ashamed of what went on in his home and learned early on to keep secrets.
When Mae Cho was discovered running naked through the woods behind his house, Kyung’s first reaction is not one of concern, but rather of surprise and shame. His very properly behaved mother should not, and normally would not, allow herself to be seen in public in such a state. He was humiliated. When he approaches her, he discovered that she has been brutally beaten. She begs him for help and seems to be accusing his father of the attack. Later, it is learned that his father had been severely beaten, as well, along with their maid Marina who had been beaten and brutally, sexually assaulted during a vicious home invasion and robbery.
Kyung is married. His wife, Gillian is Irish. Theirs is an interracial marriage that was not blessed by either of their families, so they eloped. Ethan, their four year old son, is an only child like his father. The relationship of Kyung and Gillian was based more on compatibility, order and calmness, rather than passion or overt affection. Their personalities seemed to complement each other and Kyung was content and believed that his wife was also. Recently, however, financial problems had caused Gillian to grow increasingly concerned. Their bills were not paid and their credit cards were maxed out. Finally, in desperation, she called in a broker to sell their house, but the broker suggested they rent it out until the market improved. Gillian wanted Kyung to solicit help from his parents, but Kyung had distanced himself from them and did not want to humiliate himself by asking for their help. In his family, pride was a major characteristic. She wanted to move in with them until they could straighten out their debts. Cracks were beginning to form in the foundation of their marriage.
After the assault on his parents, instead of moving in with his parents, as Gillian had hoped, they actually take his parents into their home. It was Kyung’s sense of duty, more than his desire to help, that motivated him to shelter them while they recovered. They could not return to their own home since it was now a crime scene, under investigation, and emotionally, it was uncertain if they ever would return. Gillian is eager and willing to help them. She even insists that they take in the maid, as well.
Gillian’s father, Connie, and brother, Tim, are both policemen. Her mother is deceased. When tragedy strikes Kyung’s family, they become involved. Kyung is not happy about this. He never felt accepted or respected by them and did not like the fact that they knew more about what had happened to his family than he did. However, his father-in-law, uncharacteristically, seemed to be concerned about him, offering him sympathy. Kyung was not able to accept his effort as genuine. While his past memories and experiences haunted him, and he had previously shown no outward signs of his seething anger, the catastrophe that had struck his parent’s home unleashed his bottled up emotions and withheld fury.
It was at this point that everything changed for Kyung. During his parents’ stay, Kyung’s emotions were unsettled and confused. He grew jealous of the developing relationship between his father and Ethan and felt his own relationship with his son was now threatened. Jin and Ethan even slept curled up next to each other. Kyung’s own relationship with his father had never been a warm and kind one. His father seemed to resent him. He became angry when Gillian did not take his side about keeping his father and son apart, but supported his father’s growing relationship with their son. He misinterpreted comments and attitudes toward him. He passed judgment on everyone he dealt with and was suspicious of all offers of kindness, help and support. He believed everyone had ulterior motives that put him at a disadvantage.
Kyung’s behavior continued to change and rapidly went from bad to worse. He avoided responsibility, felt sorry for himself, began to drink excessively, thought about other women and made inappropriate remarks and advances toward them. He was publicly rude. Then, in his parent’s Cape Cod vacation home, where both families had gone in an attempt to return to normal life, in one final act of seething anger, Kyung dishonored his parents publicly at dinner. It was an unforgivable act intended to shame them and extract an apology from them for how he had been treated. Grave consequences followed.
The differences in the cultural mores and problems each faced, as a result of racial discrimination and/or lifestyle, grew more and more apparent as relationships and communication broke down. The effect of bottled up and concealed rage were guiding Kyung, rather than his self control or common sense. His behavior was irrational, and at times he resembled his cold and distant father more and more, even though it was that father’s violent behavior that he actually resented; conversely, it was also that father’s respect and affection he had always craved.
Kyung was so angry that he no longer thought clearly; he was consumed only with thoughts of revenge. His background demanded that he avenge his mother’s name and honor even as he ran from her shame and his own because he saw her as weak. His behavior was so radically altered that he alienated himself from everyone. Only Gillian’s father seemed to understand why Kyung was so distraught and was acting so out of character. The brutality he witnessed as a child had deeply scarred him, and after the violent acts his parents had suffered, he was filled with those memories and a fury that he could no longer control. He became devious, cruel and vicious. He became a broken and injured soul whose destructive outbursts began to lead them all on a road to destruction.
This is a tense crime novel with graphic violence and growing tension until the surprise and totally unexpected final scenes reveal the real catalyst and cause of the repulsive and revolting attack on the Cho household. The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger that leaves some unanswered questions going forward. The narrator did an excellent job of interpreting the personalities of the characters which the author clearly defined. I had a mental image of each of them. It was difficult to put this book down. (I have both print and audio version)