It does authors a disservice to drape debut novels in blurbs that are too glowing. For example, according to Alexander Chee's comment on the back of Nami Mun's new novel, Miles from Nowhere, Mun is "easily one of the most important new talents in American fiction... one of our next great writers." Talk about pressure—isn't it enough that the woman has written a perfectly serviceable first novel? Miles from Nowhere isn't going to change the way you read fiction, but it's a smartly observed and quietly insightful novel about a runaway Korean girl living on the streets of New York City in the 1980s.
The book reads like a collection of short stories, each chapter with its own distinct arc. Joon is a 13-year-old girl who has run away from home to escape the scenes of dysfunction played out by her adulterous father and mentally ill mother; the novel's chapters tell stories of the people she meets, the drugs she uses, and the men she fucks on the streets of the Bronx. "King's Manor" sees Joon getting a job at a nursing home in an attempt to get clean—an effort that backfires when a coworker turns out to have a habit of his own. In another chapter, a dazed Joon goes to the abortion clinic, "proud of [herself] for having shot up exactly the right amount." When a woman outside the clinic hands her a hardboiled egg, whispering "God loves you. This is from God," she thinks it must be Easter, only understanding after she's come down that "it was not Easter and the egg people were protestors of some kind."
Despite the fact that the book is written in the first person, Joon remains a shadowy figure, less clear to the readers than the squalid apartments and dead-end junkies she describes. One appreciates that Joon's voice is never self-pitying, but as Mun's prose skips from one lucid recollection to the next, the reader is left to wonder what Joon's up to when she's not clear-headed enough to tell us her story. These barely linked anecdotes of life on the street could easily feel depressingly slight, another chronicle of a life derailed by the wrong choices at the wrong time, but Mun unites them all with Joon's developing understanding of her parents' relationship––an awareness that lends the book an ultimate, gentle grace.