“The Only Child: a Novel”
By Mi-ae Seo, translated from Korean by Yewon Jung
In “The Only Child,” Korean author Mi-ae Seo delivers a sometimes frightening psychological thriller with echoes of “The Silence of the Lambs” and “The Bad Seed.”
In the story, forensic psychologist Yi Seonkyeong is teaching criminal psychology to college students in Seoul when she receives an unusual request that could propel her career. Condemned serial killer Yi Byeongdo has agreed to talk to her with no limits on their conversation. Seonkyeong has no idea why the killer, who has refused previous interviews with more famous psychologists, has reached out to her.
She’s only begun the interviews when she’s distracted by developments in her personal life. Her new husband wants his 11-year-old daughter Hayeong, to live with them. Hayeong, whose mother committed suicide a few years ago, has been living with her grandparents, who die in a house fire.
Seonkyeong is increasingly disturbed by the girl’s sullen attitude marked by occasional violent outbursts. She begins to see parallels between the girl and Yi Byeongdo.
“The Only Child” benefits from the growing relationship between Seonkyeong and Hayeong, who has never trusted adults. A truly unnerving finale puts a new perspective on the plot.
“You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time: Rules for Couples”
By Patricia Marx and Roz Chast
Celadon Books, $20
Patricia Marx and Roz Chast both work at the New Yorker (Marx is a staff writer and Chast is a cartoonist), play in a ukulele band together (Ukulear Meltdown) and have been friends since the 1970s.
Now, the creators of “Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It?: A Mother’s Suggestions” have a new book that would make a great anniversary gift for mildly crabby, long-paired off couples.
“Life is a schlep, and it’s easier to get through it with another ox,” they sum up in the introduction to “You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time,” giving their couplehood bona fides (35 years for Chast, 12 for Marx) before launching into a series of advice, illustrated by Chast’s live-wire cartoons.
Overall, the worthiness of that advice is up for debate (suggestions range from “Queen-sized beds, king-sized blankets” to “It is easier to stay inside and wait for the snow to melt than to fight about who should shovel,” but all of their observations are pretty funny.