Victoria Namkung | Longreads | July 2018 | 8 minutes (2,150 words)
R.O. Kwon’s debut novel, The Incendiaries, is a meditation on faith, extremism, and fractured identity. A poetic thriller, written in an inventive stream-of-consciousness style, with shifting narration between characters and spare yet haunting prose, the story is also partly inspired by Kwon’s own experiences separating from Christianity as a young woman.
At the fictional Edwards University, Will Kendall, a poor transfer student and former evangelical Christian, is desperate to believe in something new. He becomes obsessed — and falls in love — with the charming Phoebe Lin, a similarly godless Korean-American pianist who is plagued with guilt over her mother’s death. Phoebe, however, falls under the spell of John Leal, a gregarious cult leader. Leal’s mysterious Bible study group, Jejah, eventually descends into right-wing terrorist violence targeting abortion clinics. When Phoebe disappears after a fatal accident involving Jejah members, Will is desperate to find out what happened to her.
The Incendiaries reflects on how our backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs can lead us to justify all sorts of perilous actions, how quickly well-intentioned devotion can turn deadly, and how life-altering it can be to find or lose religion. Read more…