It is in the book’s second half that the story is most engaging. The first half’s concerns are explored mostly through interior monologue consisting of thoughts most readers of books or watchers of films could fill in on their own ... We’ve read these books and seen these films and so we spend much of the first half of the story a step or two ahead of his narration wishing he would catch up instead of mulling over his options in a situation familiar to audiences ... Once Yu-jin discovers and begins to read his mother’s journal and offers the reader his own take on each chapter of the story that she tells, stroke by (alternately conflicting and complementary) stroke a more complete picture is formed ... even after crucial bits of memory are recovered the mystery remains until the resolution. And that resolution is satisfyingly chilling and, depending on the reader, thrilling.
The novel is cleverly plotted and constructed ... The fragmented, and at times discombobulating, structure of the novel reflects Yu-Jin’s own mental state ... While there is rather too much reliance on a journal to fill in some gaps, the novel nonetheless pulls one along—such suspension of disbelief as is necessary comes easily—as one is pulled deeper into Yu-Jin’s mind than is entirely comfortable ... Translated novels rarely make into the English-language commercial mainstream. If a Korean novel finally does, it might just be this one.
The Good Son (who is anything but) is not so much a mystery story, then, as the case study of a psychopath, an unlikely thriller that we continue to read—thanks to Ms. Jeong’s controlled prose, as rendered into English by Chi-Young Kim —with a sickened sort of fascination. It’s a testament to the author’s skill and seriousness of purpose that she maintains suspense about her inhuman-seeming protagonist’s fate until the bitter end.
...a bit heavy-handed, but this starts to make sense as you begin to piece together Yu-Jin’s mental state. It is this slow piecing together of the mind of a psychopath where The Good Son excels ... There are moments when it seems as if a character is stating the obvious, but these may be due to the nature of Korean to English translation. Even so, the translation really allows the story to pull you in, and the twists and turns keep you going.
Yu-Jin’s constant headaches may remind readers of recent unreliable-narrator mysteries, but Jeong unspools the truth in a way that will make you fear for his community and remaining family. “The Good Son” reminds me of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, but Jeong is saying something about the complicated relationships among mothers and sons and siblings that will also resonate with American readers.