Sorry to Disrupt the Peace is part of the 2018 Republic of Consciousness longlist, this is a prize that awards books that are , according to prize founder Neil Griffiths, ‘hard-core literary fiction and gorgeous prose’. Patty Yumi Cottrell’s debut novel does fulfill those criteria.
The book is about Helen, a Korean woman, who was adopted into a white US family as a child. Helen is quirky, she only gets her clothes from garbage cans , she collects rubbish and displays that and is brutally honest to a point where it is embarrassing. However she does barge through life despite the troubles she encounters, the book’s title is named after her abrupt way of contributing to a conversation.
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace begins with Helen receiving a call from her uncle stating that her adopted brother committed suicide. Helen then goes on a quest to investigate the reason why her brother decided to end his life. Her investigation brings her back to her hometown from New York and she puts the pieces together and things become clear.
As such I would not say that the suicide is a maguffin because Helen goes through some self-realisation about her character and her brother’s but it is a vehicle to show us readers that being foreign can affect one’s position in society – whereas Helen has outward tendencies it is obvious that she doesn’t fit into society, her brother is a misfit as well but he retreats into his shell, until we find out why he has committed suicide and then perspectives change but ultimately the book is about not fitting with the mores and norms of people.
The narrative tone is darkly funny, at times I was reminded of Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, another book which is stuffed with offbeat characters. Helen’s perversions (I’m never going to forget that towel scene) sort of echo the titular character of Otessa Moshfegh’s Eileen but the overall tone is similar to Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen. The above comparisons are just little signal markers. Patty Yumi Cottrell has got a distinctive voice and coupled with the clever plot makes this book a special read indeed.
I have also reviewed Kevin Davey’s Playing Possum, which has also been longlisted for Republic of Consciousness Prize. You can read it here