It is Monday, February 21st, and today is our fourth Bizarro Pulp Press showcase. Today, we are going to give you a sneak peek at K.P. Kulski’s HOUSE OF PUNGSU, which is the author’s reimagining of a classic Korean folk tale. This novella is Kulski’s second solo effort, after her debut novel, FAIREST FLESH (which found itself listed on the Stoker preliminary ballot in 2020).
Let’s take a look at the cover!
Don Noble, again, knocks it out of the park with an elegant and striking design.
When Kulski pitched HOUSE OF PUNGSU, she offered the following synopsis:
“No one knows what’s beyond the walls of the Joseon-era palace that never seems to decay, a sprawling complex where daughter, mother, and grandmother are the only inhabitants. Why is her bed-bound grandmother locked in her room each night, and what exactly is behind the locked doors of the palace pavilions and halls? When daughter unexpectedly begins to menstruate, she is tormented with dreams that drive her to find answers.
Following the Korean folk story of “A Tiger’s Whisker,” HOUSE OF PUNGSU is a feminist meditation on women’s inner identity and the struggle to rediscover it.”
We’d recommend this one to fans of Shirley Jackson’s work. Identity, and the search for identity, is the core of HOUSE OF PUNGSU, and identity is the fabric through which Kulski deftly weaves her narrative. Daughter, Mother, and Grandmother think they know one another, but assumptions of each role gets subverted over and over.
Here is a sample, a playful moment between characters, but a moment loaded with subtext:
Grandmother stops and smiles, most of her teeth are missing, but a beautiful thing to see just the same. “Now what do you think about that?” She asks, tilting her chin to her chest.
I want to think of something clever, but this beginning irritates me, it seems obvious what the woman should do. But anyone who’s heard folktales knows that the characters don’t always act logically, as if they are bound by invisible threads of the story itself, rules that we accept but don’t understand. Rules that ring hollow when challenged.
“It seems she should talk to her husband and ask him what is wrong,” I say with a shrug, it seems simple enough. Why wouldn’t the woman do that? Perhaps the man was ashamed, and she sensed it? But why would she put his pride over her own safety. I shake my head. So much in these stories could be solved by some perspective change. Or breaking the rules of the story. Perhaps the wife should become a woman with a name instead of an association. An identity which belongs to her and her alone.
Grandmother nods as if she hears my thoughts. Her eyes study me, sharply absorbing every pull of my facial muscles. We sit for a moment in silence, her eyes looking into mine. Sometimes I hope she will tell me what she sees, what part of me is important, worth cultivating.
Grandmother seems to come to some sort of a decision. She squeezes my hand once. “Well then, I will tell you more next time. Since I have given you a story, it is time for you to give me one.”
“Unfair,” I pretend to protest, trying to tease her mood to something lighter, “only part of a story in trade for a whole one?”
A chuckle wheezes from her lips and she presses herself back into the pillows. She looks tired suddenly. “I am old and eccentric, now read the story for me.”
I pretend to sigh, but I’m just searching her face for clues of what she’s thinking. As usual, her wrinkles are maps of her experiences, but not her thoughts.
She watches my hands as I page through, playing with the bits of ribbon that mark our favorites. “What shall I read today then?” I ask and wonder if she’ll go for a pretty tale, the versions that end in neat packages.
“The one with the little girl in red, lost in the woods,” she says.
“She wasn’t lost, she was on her way to her grandmother’s house,” I say. For some reason I feel defensive of Little Red.
Grandmother waves a hand at me. “Just read, lost granddaughter in red.”
I rock with a satisfied huff and nod, letting my amusement show. She usually loves the bloody ones best and this one is no different. Stepsisters slicing their feet so that they could shape their bodies into the mold of glass set out for them and old women eaten up by wolves, every time these stories end, grandmother laughs, a throaty gusto of joy. I can’t figure what amuses her so much about these tales. To me, they are horrifying, but her laughter is infectious, and I usually end laughing too. Deep amusement over the sorrows of these characters locked in their story cycle of forever.
Will Little Red be forever traveling to her grandmother’s house? Forever staring at the horror of the wolf?
Kulski isn’t afraid to pose big questions to the reader, and she delivers on the needed change of perspective referenced in the character’s thoughts in the above snippet. HOUSE OF PUNGSU is a labyrinthine read, and a rewarding one. Again, fans of Shirley Jackson would do well to pick this novella up, or anyone looking for a fresh perspective on Gothic storytelling.
HOUSE OF PUNGSU should release in September. We’ll be revisiting this one nearer to its street date (TBD).
Next Monday, we take a look at the final Bizarro Pulp Press release of 2022, THE TAXIDERMIED MAN, Jacy Morris’s truly “out there” Bizarro offering.