Feed on

I found Krys Lee’s “A Temporary Marriage” more than a little unsettling.  On the surface, it is a story about a mother trying to find her daughter and rebuild her life after her divorce.  As the story progresses, however, the underlying theme becomes apparent.  Mrs. Shin feels intense guilt and responsibility for everything that has gone wrong in her life, and the only way she feels she can make up for wrongdoings is by paying for them through physical pain.

When she first meets Mr. Rhee, she expects him to be cruel.  After she tells him about how her ex-husband bribed the divorce officials to give him complete custody over their daughter, Yuri, Mrs. Shin goes into Mr. Rhee’s room, puts on one of his ex-wife’s dresses, and starts playing ping pong.  When Mr. Rhee finds her, he is furious, and Mrs. Shin wants him to hit her.  “‘You should slap me,’ she said … ‘You’re angry,’ she said.  Her whole body was prepared.  ‘You’ll feel better, after.’”  I don’t know what to be more appalled by here – that she expects punishment, or that she wants it.

At the end of the story when we finally meet Yuri and Mr. Shin, the reader comes to understand why Mrs. Shin expects violence from men.  Mr. Shin as good as tells her that he beats his new wife and has to restrain himself from striking Mrs. Shin – something that is implied happened often during their marriage.  During this same meeting, she asks him to hit her.  Mrs. Shin wants to be beaten by the men she attaches herself to because she feels she doesn’t deserve to be treated better.  When he refuses, she makes her way back to the condo she shares with Mr. Rhee, where she beats herself.  She feels guilty that she let her ex-husband take her daughter away, and even more so now that she knows she can’t entice her daughter to leave her ex-husband, so she turns to the only form of comfort she knows.  Perhaps one of the most disturbing lines of the story comes in this section: “She was becoming herself again in the ardor of the scissors and the flogging belt…”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.