Murderers, Whoremongers, Liars, and Worse
By: Robert Earle
Published in: The Puritan
Reviewed by: Vickie Fan
A few years back I taught a writing class with underprivileged women in Baltimore. We did one lesson on writing about home and used two examples as models. One example was an excerpt from a novel that had been written by a Pulitzer Prize winning, best selling author. The other, even better example, was taken from Robert Earle’s short story, Murderers, Whoremongers, Liars, and Worse. The fact that work as vibrant as Earle’s can be found in the largely unpaid world of online journals says almost everything we need to know about the literary marketplace.
The home in Earle’s story is described with brutal economy: Two rooms in Pyongyang. 1930s. The room in back with sleeping pallets, cast-iron wood stove, cooking utensils they made themselves, and a chamber pot next to the food box. The room on the street only a half room with an awning open like a mouth in daytime and shut like an eyelid at night. No space to work safely.
Out of the grim poverty of his environment, Sung Wei emerges, a boy who is strong, smart, and passionately alive. Far from bemoaning his lot, he begins to worship — and then identify with — a Christian god who is intimately and triumphantly connected with hardship. Through the ravages of successive wars, Sung Wei forges a larger than life sense of self that powers a deeply rewarding short story.
This is Sung Wei escaping from a prison camp.
They made the moon their compass. Twelve miles, cold and breathless.
That night God told him if he failed, God would fail; God told him if he lived, God would live.
Sung Wei was powerful. He pulled the Korean with the broken glasses with one hand and pushed the American with the other. That’s how they crossed a freezing river in search of dawn.
God did not fail; God lived.
To read the story, click here.