There’s also a pilgrimage to the Polygon Plaza, HQ of the entertainment company that masterminded the boy band, where a Music Professor, the president, does a bit of waxing herself about how “people were running around in circles and indulging their small adorable freedoms, like wearing this or that outfit or sleeping with this or that person. They confused their navigation through the stunning variety of meaningless choices as an expression of their individuality.” It’s a stinging indictment of what it’s become fashionable to call “late capitalism,” as if anyone had an idea of its endpoint.
The main pleasure of “Y/N” is not so much its somewhat skeletal plot, which floats in and out of surreality like an adult “Phantom Tollbooth,” as its corkscrew turns of language (also Tollboothian). I loved how Yi animates objects and reduces humans to collections of cells. The celestial group refers to its fans as “livers” — maybe because it sounds like “lovers,” but more because “we kept them alive,” the narrator notes, “like critical organs.”
Shelves of books snake through a dark library “in a disorderly line, not unlike intestines.” Electronic door locks emit “smug beeps.” Cosmetic sheet masks, a 30-day skin regimen packaged with images of the boy band, stay on way longer than they should. “In a month, my dead skin cells will fall away, and I’ll be left with the juicier cells underneath,” U.N. states flatly. “Then I’ll be closer to who I really am.”(This is how Sephora makes billions.)
In real life, K-pop fans are a sprawling entity, bigger and more online than Gaga’s Monsters or Beyoncé’s Hive: “armies” that have increasingly made incursions into politics and faced government censure. In its clever compactness, “Y/N” resists the junkiness of the internet where they reside, the fanfics and the livestreams and endless comments.
All that writing, that global “content,” is now so ubiquitous, so endless, so cheap — ChatGPT, bonjour — it comes to seem like a toxic cloud, against which a well-formed novel like this counteracts, a blast of cleansing heat.
Y/N | By Esther Yi | 224 pp. | Astra House | $26