Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chatterbooks: Elizabeth Crane on Miles From Nowhere by Nami Mun

A few weeks ago, while skimming through photos on my Instagram feed, I stumbled across a photo posted by fellow author Elizabeth Crane of a novel she’d just read, Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun. Below the photo, she included a tumble of words about the book--a Chatterbooks-style review, if you will. Struck by the unbottled, unbridled passion in Elizabeth’s testimony, I asked if I could reprint it here at The Quivering Pen and, to my delight, she consented, adding a few more joy-gushing words along the way.

Fuck. Me. I almost read this book cover to cover yesterday, but I didn’t want Mad Men spoilers all up in my face today, so I put it down thirty pages from the end and finished it this morning, before I even checked Facebook, which is something I never do, especially not on my birthday, because you know, Facebook birthdays are good. Also, I tend not to promote books on social media because... well let’s just say I have some issues to work through on that and we can discuss that another day. Anyway, this book just cracked me in half, it’s an incredible story, about Joon, a Korean American girl from the Bronx who runs away from her crazy mom/drunk-cheating dad at age twelve to live in SROs and abandoned buildings and become, in succession, a dance hostess, a hustler, an Avon lady, a pregnant junkie, and a lunch delivery girl for $3.35 an hour, which is a lot of things, and you’re just always in admiration of Joon’s resilience but praying every page for this horrible episode to be the horrible episode that leads her to a better episode, in any case, nightmare story or not, the writing is the thing, that’s the thing about it. Apparently Nami Mun took eight years to write it and whenever I hear this I think, Who has eight years to write a book? I feel like if I gave up eight years for a book I would only ever make it worse. (On the other hand then you hear rumors about someone like Colum McCann who apparently wrote Let the Great World Spin in five minutes and didn’t have to edit a word, and then I just think who can win either way?) Mun, however, gives you a character in a blink:
Always in his shiny Members Only jacket with the sleeves scrunched up, Wink walked around the place like he was the president of money.
The boys in the neighborhood had always made fun of his name–Mr. McCommon…It didn’t help that he wore a boring gray suit and tie almost every day and drove a car the color of masking tape.
And by the time she’s sixteen:
But for the most part we talked about our dreams, like they really belonged to us, and as we drank, our imagined futures seemed as real and beautiful as the alcohol in our spines. I wanted a place of my own, with a mailbox and a toaster, but was too embarrassed to want something as ridiculous as love.
I am going to make my future students read the shit out of this book.

Elizabeth Crane is the author of three collections of short stories, most recently You Must Be This Happy to Enter. She is a recipient of the Chicago Public Library 21st Century Award. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts and adapted for the stage by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater. Her debut novel, We Only Know So Much, was published in 2012 by HarperPerennial and was adapted for film in 2014. Her second novel, The History of Great Things, will be published by HarperPerennial in 2016.

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