Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tough and Touching: Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun

Joon, the protagonist of Nami Mun's new novel Miles from Nowhere, loses her parents as a young teenager: her father runs away, and her mother withdraws into a nearly catatonic state. What follows is told in an episodic manner and has some aspects of a journey, but it is an Odyssey with no Ithaca: Joon's only goals are to survive the next encounter, and perhaps sometimes have a roof and a bed for the night. Or, failing that, a subway car (the novel takes place in New York City).

Joon's experiences are often mediated by other characters with their own agendas, addictions, and distorted views, all of which she observes and relates with a sharp eye for detail and, usually, a passivity born out of her dysfunctional home life. Joon accepts these figures for what they are and does not often editorialize about them (when she does it is often in a flash-forward passage that has her speaking in retrospect): for example, there is a girl named Knowledge, who has some definite ideas about the rules of the world but does not fully grasp the concept of consistency; and Benny, to whom Joon looks for love, and who supplies instead forgetfulness and release.

If one lets oneself think about the scenes and images that Joon observes so objectively and passively, they are gritty, tough, sometimes nasty, and often heartbreaking (always compelling, though). It is the writer's strength that these scenes are simply told without editorializing and allowed to speak for themselves, which imparts to the writing a beauty even when what is being described is harsh and ugly.

The thing about this novel, though, that makes it more than another book about coming of age on the mean streets, is the way the author captures the feeling of being disconnected from anyone or anything, lost, and unmoored in life. In capturing that mood, it is somewhat reminiscent of Marilynn Robinson's Housekeeping, although nothing like that book in other respects.

We all, even those of us who grew up in comfortable homes, seek connection in life, and hence we all viscerally understand Joon's disconnectedness. In this way, the book speaks to all readers. It is also exceptionally well-written, with a great sense of detail, place, and social context. I strongly recommend Miles from Nowhere as a stunning debut novel and one of the finer literary novels I have read. Kindle edition $9.99.

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6 comments:

Michael Shaw said...

Stephen,

This is a beautiful book review. One of the best book reviews I have read in a long time. It is interesting that you mention the book Housekeeping because I remember when you gave that book and when I read it.

Not that you asked my opinion, but I think your blog should be for ALL readers, not just those with Kindles. To return people to the joy and benefits of fine reading.

Also as get older, reading helps keep our minds sharp. It sounds a tad stodgy, but it is true!

Love,

Michael

KindleDude said...

Thanks for your too-kind comments, Mike! I'm actually thinking of starting another blog for all readers for the book reviews. A sort of all-readers distillation of this site, as it were.

I agree, of course -- reading definitely keeps one's mind sharp, among its many other benefits!

Mary said...

I second the first comment. I'm adding this title to my TBR list. And that's due to your good review. I tend to review differently - post the description blurb from the book and then my reaction (liked it or not, enjoyed the style, writing etc). Very spare. Just a different review style. Actually, I wish I could articulate my reactions as well as you do. I'll blame raising my children for robbing me of my brain cells. Happy New Year.

KindleDude said...

Mary, thanks so much! I really appreciate your comment. I'm afraid my book review style has to do more with my former life as a wanna-be academic English lit guy than brain cells!

Tasses said...

Just wanted to let you know that I have linked to your review on my site: Random Wonder.
:-)

KindleDude said...

Hey Tasses! I see we totally disagree about this book, so I'm adding you to my resource list as well! I'm all about diversity of opinion.

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