COURAGE is the moving story of the deep friendship and love between alienated youths Jenny Park and Daniel Fischer, which begins in high school and spans to thirteen years past their graduation.
Jenny is a Korean-American struggling with her social identity and sickly family situation, while Daniel is a white intellectual conflicted by his bookish intelligence and yet difficulty connecting with others as he feels he should. Both are alienated because of their earnest natures and nonconforming personalities. The plot alternates randomly between three periods: high school, college, and years afterward. While both struggle, Jenny’s life takes much more painful turns. Daniel becomes a millionaire writer and celebrated philosopher; Jenny ends up an unfulfilled waitress married to a very abusive husband.
The writing is very serious, even philosophical. Both Jenny and Daniel are in constant existential uneasiness so severe that it makes the angst of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen look miniscule. Their feelings are related in discontented streams-of-consciousness and stuttering, awkward dialogue. At times, the melodrama is heightened by the author’s liberal use of italics for emphasis, parenthetical thought fragments, and occasional words in complete uppercase for shouting. The author does continue too long, though, following dramatics point with a pointless essay and then an ambiguous epilogue.
Interspersed among the story are journal entries and college philosophy essays by Daniel that were later published. The essays are full essays, discussing existential problems while citing multitudinous philosophers such as Albert Camus and Martin Heidegger. These essays criticizing Hollywood and fashion as worthless, while intelligent, are less profound than Daniel thinks. It also seems likely that Praphanchith originally wrote the essays in college.
The story is full of agonizing experiences, particularly Jenny’s tendency to incite and stay in harmful situations. At times, it can feel like a soap opera. Still, the story and writing are satisfyingly realistic and the protagonists have valid reasons for their angst. Jenny’s parents openly admit how they wish she had been a boy, how they think she’s stupid and she doesn’t contribute to the family. Like Jenny, many Asian-Americans do struggle with stereotyping and identity issues and even intelligent people stay in abusive relationships.
Although it sometimes has a pretentious air, COURAGE ultimately is a heartbreaking and well-told story with a unique style, with an ending that is unexpected and both sorrowful and joyful at once.
Reviewed by Christopher James Dubey for IndieReader.