Flux by Jinwoo Chong is a novel about a man, Bo, who loses his job at a magazine company and gets recruited for a job at a company that promises a life-long battery. His introduction to the company is one that is oddly timed with a man, Lev, offering him a job right after he falls down an elevator shaft. At the company, he begins his commute and at 9am, losses his memory of what he did for that day. The story of a younger Bo is threaded throughout, who loses his mother after she is run over by a bus three days before Christmas while bringing him his lunch. Bo is continuously filled with guilt from that moment, and fights with his brother, Kaz, runs away from his home, and then falls and rips open his wrist. Another character, Blue, which turns out to be Bo, decades after his time at the battery company, is preparing to do an interview telling the world the scam the company was running. One day at work, after getting a mysterious alarm on his phone, Bo follows its instructions, which was to use 1% milk in his cereal. This then reveals he is able to visit memories of his life and affect them, essentially becoming a time traveler. Once Bo finds out, he tries to warn his coworker, Ry, but she is then taken by the company and killed with two of her friends. The deaths kick-start in investigation into the company, where the scam and misgiving are revealed. At the interview location, Bo tries to recreate his time travel and is successful. He sets in motion setting his younger self’s alarm, goes to his father right before he has a heart attack and apologies for how terrible of a son he was, brings his younger self back home when he ran away, and finally goes to save his mother from being killed by a bus. Bo is obsessed with a character in a detective show, Raider, which features an Asian cast, but is all the while tinged in racism. Bo converses with the fictional character throughout the novel, explaining his situation, and frames it in the context of the show.
Flux is a dazzling display of Chong’s use of timelines, threaded narratives, and the surreal. The conversing with the Raider character is such a powerful framing device and reminds me of how Matthew Salesses uses something similar in The Sense of Wonder. I also like how the figure-head of the battery company, Io Emsworth, is a pretty good analog to Elizabeth Holmes. But what I am most astounded by is how intricate the timelines coalesce with Bo becoming the Jacket Guy, the phone alarms, and the memories (as with the rest of the novel). There had to have been a lot of planning on the back end on how everything would be put in, and it’s still a wonder to me how well its sense of time bends while reading. I highly recommend this book as Chong’s ability has shown he is a master at his craft.
Final Rating: 5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.