Exhibit y R.O. Kwon

“It felt as if living, all of it, had led to just this night, bending to each photo.”

Reading Exhibit by R.O. Kwon, the bestselling author of The Incendiaries, is an act of art in itself. Kwon has struck gold with this sexy, exhilarating, and intimate story about art, faith, obsession, desire, and transformation. 

Set in the luxurious hills of San Francisco, Exhibit unveils a transformative encounter between Jin Han, a photographer married to her college love, Philip, and Lidija Jung, a captivating world-class ballerina on hiatus due to an injury. This meeting sparks a profound and life-altering change in both women, particularly Jin, who finds herself at a crossroads between societal and cultural expectations and her true self, which she is desperately trying to dig out. The intense bond between these two women cracks open years of guilt, obsession, and desire, catapulting Jin into unexplored territory as the reader witnesses her freefall toward the unknown.

Exhibit is a dreamlike narrative painted in three mediums.

At the forefront is Jin’s metamorphosis, told through exquisite prose with striking and vivid imagery. Within Jin’s story, Kwon traverses an impossible number of themes, including art, agency, and identity. This central plot is deliciously expanded through short vignettes depicting the history behind the Han family curse, often composed of quick and sharp segments no longer than a page, and excerpts from letters to God written by Jin after she abandons her faith. Some of Exhibit’s most memorable quotes are found in these letters to God, often packed with guilt, uncertainty, and desperate longing. Dropped between a poetic depiction of Jin’s obsession with Lidija and a hurried scene of Jin hiding her art from Philip, Kwon hits the reader with this poignant passage: 

“Dear vexing Lord, can I tell You, though, what it is to push on living while I don’t have You? Its strength, Lord, this urge, the cut-stalk lust to persist. Lopped free of afterlife, of everlasting, I dangle bare legs above oblivion. People topple in; I will, too. O far-flung Lord, You won’t stop the fall. One artist, not long before his death, noticed a lilac sprig by his hospital bed. He’d marvel at the lilac, still pulling water from its slim vase. Dying, it drinks, he said. It goes on swilling.”

This not-so-subtle Kafka reference is one of many nods to past artists found throughout this lush novel.

Ripe with questions to explore, Exhibit can be read and read again, with each revision dragging something new into the light.  

No doubt, the innovative artists of our community will find a lot to love in Exhibit. Visit Benicia’s beloved Bookshop Benicia to pick up your own copy of this electrifying book and explore similar titles on their shelves.

Jin’s Julep

Ingredients:

  • 12 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
  • 1.5 teaspoons superfine sugar
  • 2 ounces gin
  • Crushed ice
  • Seltzer

Preparation:

  1. In the bottom of a julep cup, muddle mint and sugar until mint starts to break down. 
  2. Add gin; stir until sugar dissolves.
  3. Add ice to fill cup ¾ of the way
  4. Top with seltzer
  5. Stir, top with more ice, and garnish