The Law of Lines follows the parallel stories of two young women whose lives are upended by sudden loss. When Se-oh, a recluse still living with her father, returns from an errand to find their house in flames, wrecked by a gas explosion, she is forced back into the world she had tried to escape. The detective investigating the incident tells her that her father caused the explosion to kill himself because of overwhelming debt she knew nothing about, but Se-oh suspects foul play by an aggressive debt collector and sets out on her own investigation, seeking vengeance.
Ki-jeong, a beleaguered high school teacher, receives a phone call from the police saying that the body of her younger half-sister has just been found. Her sister was a college student she had grown distant from. Though her death, by drowning, is considered a suicide by the police, that doesn’t satisfy Ki-jeong, and she goes to her sister’s university to find out what happened. Her sister’s cell phone reveals a thicket of lies and links to a company that lures students into a virtual pyramid scheme, preying on them and their relationships. One of the contacts in the call log is Se-oh.
Like Hye-young Pyun’s Shirley Jackson Award–winning novel The Hole, The Law of Lines an immersive thriller that explores the edges of criminality in ordinary lives, the unseen forces that shape us, and grief and debt.
Source: Arcade Publishing
At the heart of the story, it’s about two women’s struggles to come to terms with the death of a family member. Se-oh found solace and the will to live through malice. She blamed his father’s death solely on the debt collector Su-ho, even though she knew it was irrational. Her obsession with stalking Su-ho and finding that moment to strike became her sole motivation to live on.
Malice gave Se-oh something to do. It swept away her grief and lifted her out of bed in the morning.The Law of Lines
On the other hand, Ki-jeong was focused on finding out the truth behind her half-sister’s death. She went to extreme lengths in doing so, including hiring a PI and even trespassing Se-oh’s goshiwon room in her absence.
In the epilogue, readers are cued in to what mourning / grief is about. The first step to grief, and recovery, is to acknowledge our sadness, to cry and to admit that we miss them. Something that both Se-oh and Ki-jeong failed to do.
It’s a simple truth, but honestly, while I knew that there was something wrong in the way Se-oh and Ki-jeong approached deaths, I could not pinpoint what was amiss, especially in the case of Ki-jeong. Perhaps, flawed as I am, I did not know how to approach grief and in my own warped way, I might have caused hurt to myself and others in the process of mourning. I’ve read a couple of reviews that lamented the underwhelming turn in the narrative when Se-oh and Ki-jeong finally met, but I did not mind that the story seemed to fizzle out towards the end and that readers were left hanging as to why and how Ki-jeong’s sister had died. There’s more realism to a story with loose ends untied and that lingering regret is what made me think about the novel long after I’ve finished reading it.
What Pyun excelled in was really the nitty gritty details of the story and her vivid and realistic portrayal of the characters. There were several parts that spoke to me, and there were some scenes where I felt called out. I found myself highlighting numerous quotes here and there. One of my favourites:
In Ki-jeong’s view of things, life was a weed. If you didn’t tend to it, it would grow out of control and spread and shove its branches into everything. If you did tend to it, it would be restrained and trimmed and plucked, and if you did really well, it could even have a shape to it.The Law of Lines
I felt called out for this one. One thing led to another. That is how I would describe my life and upon reflection, I am leaving life to its own devices. Deep down, I know that it was probably I never quite recover from the hurt of not being able to control life’s direction when I tried to, and now I stopped doing so.
随遇而安. To let things be, to take things as they are. Admirable as that could be, it also means that I’m leaving life to its own devices, without quite caring where it brings me.
Within the greater narrative of death and grief, a pyramid scheme bound several characters together and created much of the conflict. The readers were not privy to the specifics of the scheme, but rather, the focus was on the impact of the scheme on its members This is not the first time I read about a pyramid scheme in a novel, but it is probably the first one which wrote about a victim-turned-member. Truth be told, l’ve never quite considered the perspective of someone who had joined the scheme unwittingly and ended up selling it to others while being fully aware of the lies told in the process. I always thought that the ones who stayed believe in their own spiel. It was all the more unnerving when the team leader told Se-ho that she had tried to run away herself and was now spying on others to make sure they don’t do the same.
Mi-yeon’s meeting with Se-oh (to bring her onboard the scheme) reminded me strongly of the number of times that friends asked to meet to “catch up”, while ending up trying to sell me something or to rope me into some form of scheme. That overly enthusiastic smile, fake friendliness, ramblings on how they were making good money, how there was an excellent opportunity too good to miss… and you know what’s the worst thing? – when they used my aspirations / dreams that I had shared with them and turn them against me. To insinuate that I wasn’t working hard enough to achieve my dreams if I pass on this opportunity to fund my goals.
Having a good friend did that to me made me resented the person so much. I basically fled and cut off all contact with said person for a while.
She’d also known that the time she spent in the pyramid would be lopped off, severed from the rest of her life as if those months had never happened. But instead of being discarded and forgotten, they would weigh over her forever.The Law of Lines
Was this how my friend felt too?
I wondered if my friend had believed wholeheartedly in the spiel, or if he/she was knowingly roping me into something that he/she wanted to exit from (the person did exit after a while).