Wait Until Twilight
by Sang Pak
229 pages / Amazon
Sang Pak’s Wait Until Twilight captures the ambivalence, frustrations, joys, fears, and triumphs of high school. I’ve read it three times now, and each time, the narrative takes me back to my teenage years, capturing the insecurities, the questions, and the fears. There is what seemingly appears to be brutal violence in the narrative, but it’s more an unflinching view of reality. High school life is tough, a microcosm of the macrocosm with experiences amplified by proximity. In the case of sixteen-year old Samuel, the tragically early death of his mother has left their family in tatters. The story begins with him visiting a neighbor for his high school film project, wanting to film triplets that are supposedly the result of a miraculous immaculate conception. The trinity of Samuel’s pain finds its manifestation in the icon of these babies whose “heads are way too big, and their arms and legs are all different lengths. Some long, some just little stumps with little fingernails stuck in a semicircle… The strangest things are their mouths. They’re the only things on their faces that look normal, and because of that they look so perfect compared to everything else on them. And those lips are moving like they’re talking but nothing’s coming out.”
Their distortion is a reflection of what’s inside Samuel and the images of the babies comes to haunt him. He says the right things, acts normal, though the voice is a gargled mess, lost in a vacuum of his own confusion. Wait Until Twilight deftly explores the awkwardness of first experiences, from the prejudices of high school cliques, to being stuck on the bench on the JV basketball team, to first crushes, Samuel losing his virginity along the way. His transformation is nowhere near as simplistic as a coming-of-age tale would suggest. In fact, bildungsroman is upended, and if anything, Samuel’s redemption is tied in with a metamorphosis into the very thing he despises. The “Dark Side” is not all bad, and he’s weighed down by more than his raging hormones and bouts of doubt. Pak recreates the ambivalence of the frenetic high school mind authentically in the first person perspective and I found myself continually recalling memories from high school I’d long forgotten. It’s the dichotomy of innocence versus a remorseful shyness; lust for the opposite sex versus fear of rejection hidden as overt coolness; wanting desperately to fit in while defying all notions of conformity. Samuel has secrets he wants to hide, intensified in a violent sequence where he is forced to hurt the triplets by their older brother, a bully, who says:
“Remember what you did here tonight. Remember how you felt. You’re the one. It’s you…” And I feel he is absolutely right. I am as guilty as he is. I choked it, just like a murderer. I would have killed.
“Go away from here. Go back from where you came.”
The geography of Georgia is intertwined with the landscape of his dreams, both comprising the stages against which he both lingers and traverses. There’s a deeper symbology at stake, the subconscious meanderings flooding into collective anxiety. His relationship with his father is muted; he hasn’t seen his older brother since his mother’s passing; and he can’t express his horror with the triplets to the one girl that seems to care about him, Melanie. Samuel is stuck in the monochromatic pixels of his past, as symbolized by his old fashion black-and-white television which he refuses to upgrade. Still, he tumbles through everyday life, stuttering through the rhythms as best as he can manage. He engages in escapades with his friends, gets drunk on alcoholic mountain dew, and watches his father build a strange monument to his mother. There’s a variegated cast of teachers and students slipping in and out with the usual chaos of high school. Throughout it all, the memory of the triplets pulls him, wracking his vision, calling to him for an exorcism of the parts of himself he fears most. “I want to tell her about those babies and everything that’s happened since, but shame wells up in my heart like an ugly face. I want to hide in the deepest hole I can find.”
The final climax is a shocking confrontation that bares as much about Samuel as the community he lives in. Think Chinatown smashing into Stand by Me as a starting point, and you get a sense of the dark adolescence wrapped in southern noir that imbues Wait Until Twilight. I keep on coming back to this book because like those triplets, the story haunts me. Or is it the memories that it evokes? Pak’s voice is starkly candid and cryptically layered. He strips the pieces of mystery away until we’re left with the horror of twilight. Waiting seems unbearable. We all search for the light, only to realize the road has changed and we no longer remember where we are. Let Sang Pak guide you forth.