Life Among The Have-Nots: Heralded first novel finds gold in grit
Contemporary American novels often feel like extended short stories; notes for bigger books. Nami Mun’s first novel initially appears to fall into this trap, but it eventually escapes. With a gift for momentum, Mun, who grew up in South Korea and Bronx, New York, weaves a narration both dense and floating.
The narrator, Joon, is a young, down-and-out Korean immigrant shifting
through New York’s underbelly in the 1980s. As a runaway from an
abusive family, she finds herself holding onto the lowest rungs of
society, side-by-side with drug addicts, grifters and the homeless. Mun
makes you care for these careworn souls, often by using unpredictable
grammatical constructions. Describing one acquaintance, she narrates:
“Blue Fly, with his sunny hair and pool-blue eyes, sold himself
As characters drift in and out of Joon’s consciousness like reflections
in the subway, she ultimately finds herself a job and a way out, and is
redeemed by the sheer forcefulness of life.