Although R. O. Kwon’s debut is a compact novel, clocking in at just under 200 pages, it packs a powerful punch. I read The Incendiaries in a morning, only putting it down to get breakfast and use the bathroom. Everything about it feels ephemeral, like it could vanish in a blink, so it felt imperative that I read it as quick as possible.
“I’ve wondered if I’ve stopped being able to want, but maybe it’s just that what I most wish to have again is not, at this point, available.”
The Incendiaries gives readers two familiar characters; an enigmatic, damaged girl in desperate need of a therapist, not a boyfriend, and her unfortunate boyfriend, someone who’s isn’t particularly unique, but is captivated with her to the point of obsession. These two characters are Phoebe and Will. They are both new to their prestigious college and both reeling from a formative event– Phoebe, the death of her mother, and Will, his rejection of the God he had cherished for so long. Will meets Phoebe just as she begins to attend Jejah, a group led by a Korean-American religious fanatic. And although Jejah at first seems just like a weekly dinner party, in the first chapter readers are armed with the knowledge that Jejah will evenutally become a cult known for bombing abortion clinics.
Kwon has mastered the art of unreliable narrators. Will’s perspective is clearly clouded with both his obsession with Phoebe and his obsession with God, who is tangled up in every aspect of his life. Kwon’s jagged writing is perfectly suited to him. It necessitates reading over oddly (but not incorrectly) phrased sentences in long rants about God or Phoebe or both and gives readers a sense of both urgency and insanity.
In The Incendiaries I felt the power of both love and religion and every emotion mixed into the two. Although it was only a debut, Kwon’s talent for storytelling is clear. I can’t wait to see what she writes up next!