Suki Kim uses Suzy’s answering machine as a device to show her readers the distant world that Suzy lives in. There are three distinct purposes that Kim uses the answering machine to portray: as a barrier between Suzy and the outside world, an interpretive tool, and as a doorway into Suzy’s thoughts. From the beginning of the novel the tone of Suzy’s life story is drab. Kim does not supply many scenes in her apartment that have description or color. And additionally most of the book Kim has Suzy spending time by herself.
We see Suzy reminisce of events of her childhood and time with Dameon while hiding in her apartment, uninterrupted and alone. This is because Kim wants to emphasize to her readers that Suzy’s world is completely separate from everyone. When you think about it, this idea of Suzy’s own world can be read in two separate ways. On an outer level we are able to understand that Suzy is someone that has practically no one. She has no family and very few friends. And on a deeper level it can be understood that this contrasts to the idea that Suzy being 1.5 generation Korean is living between the Korean community and the American community, not fully belonging to either one.
Having so many scenes in Suzy’s apartment alone opens the opportunity for Kim to show Suzy screening her phone calls through her answering machine. The answering machine acts as a medium through which Suzy is able to contact with the outside world at her own liking. As she was raised not to have any deep relationships with anyone because of her family moving and her parents working all the time we can see how using the answering machine is a device to show readers how mundane Suzy’s life really is. With the image that Kim portrays with “the blinking red light on the answering machine” it’s a subtle enough image to allow readers to imagine that it grabs Suzy’s attention just slightly enough to disrupt her dream world (69).
Coincidentally the answering machine also acts as a device for Suzy to interpret her life. “She presses ‘Delete’ after each message. It is no longer possible. An interpreter cannot pick sides”(275). Kim cleverly picks the answering machine because it can also be thought of as an interpretation between a conversation or message from one person to another. Throughout the book Suzy picks and chooses what she feels like listening or responding to just as she decides at this point of the book to stop being an interpreter because she found herself choosing what to listen and respond to in court cases.
Finally, the answering machine also works as a device to help readers to understand Suzy’s thoughts. As she hears messages being left on her machine or the ringing of the telephone we can understand her more deeply by seeing who she will and will not pick up for or who she hopes will be at the other end of the phone. There are many times when we hear Michael’s voice on the answering machine or the courts calling her to tell her about a job. In these instances we have a deeper understanding of her relationship with Michael and what she really feels about him, as well as an understanding for the commitment, or lack thereof, that she enjoys about her work. Kim uses the answering machine as a gateway for us to understand Suzy’s character.