Spooky season on The Plot Thickens starts with a short read involving a haunting—devoid of any ghosts. In the translated edition of Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun, we are introduced to Kim Da-on and her high school classmates, Yun Taerim, Han Manu, and Sanghui who each are haunted by the death of her older sister, Hae-on, in an unsolved murder that occurred in high school.
For Yun Taerim the haunting comes in the form of ceaseless accusation and illness after police decided that he was the last person to report seeing Kim Hae-on alive. So when Kim Da-on tracks him several years later and accuses him of being the murderer, he’s more resigned than defensive. When she leaves his home, Da-on is less sure about this conviction and remains more concerned about the vacuum her sister’s death has cast on their small family than dedicating her time to finding her killer. It is through the lens of her former literary club friend, Sanghui, whom she runs into years after high school, that we see that Da-on has gone as far as getting plastic surgery to better resemble her sister—a stark representation of Da-on’s desire to fill the space her sister once kept within their family.
This story revels in all the moments in between life, spending much of its time recounting moments that held no significance at the time, held higher now that these memories are all that are left. For Yun Taerim, when jealousy, guilt, and fear converges and she finds herself without a trusted outlet in her life, she anonymously seeks the help of multiple counseling spaces. Because she and Kim Hae-on were considered the class beauties of their year, she always considered the other girl competition—particularly, after her beau, Shin Jeongjun, showed Hae-on interest. It was after all Shin Jeongjun who drove the car that Hae-on was last seen in before being found in a park. After witnessing this ride and dealing with Jeongjun’s transfer to school in the U.S., Taerim holds a resentment that she’s pressed to get over after marrying Jeongjun upon his return to South Korea.
I appreciated the way that the author uses introspection and multiple perspectives to give the details of the story without making it your typical crime or mystery novel. Readers will leave with an idea of what happened to Hae-on, but more importantly they will be reminded of the ways that death raises a mirror to regret and remorse on those it leaves behind.