Harrowing tale of homelessness, addiction and prostitution, with a small hint of hope at the end.
Mun’s debut novel consists of a series of concatenated stories featuring a recurring cast of characters. At the center stands narrator Joon, in the first chapter a 13-year-old runaway looking to make it on the streets of New York. She soon finds out that survival is tougher than she expected. We follow her movement from a homeless shelter to the Club Orchid, where she works as a hostess, through an abortive stint as an Avon lady and a Narcotics Anonymous meeting to jail, for stealing, and finally to an employment agency. Along the way Joon encounters most of the lamentable horrors of modern urban life. Her streetwise mentor is the improbably named Knowledge, three years Joon’s senior, who teaches her the rudimentary tricks of survival. At Club Orchid Joon has a distasteful sexual experience and later, at 16, a self-induced abortion. She meets a series of men who, to put it mildly, are not looking out for her best interests. Of course, neither is Joon, who shoots up, snorts, inhales, injects or drinks any powder, crystal, pipe bowl, beer or liquor she can get her hands on. She reports her life as though it’s someone else’s, always maintaining a critical detachment and eschewing a self-pitying gaze. Despite sincere avowals that she wants to get straight, the cards are stacked relentlessly against her. Only toward the end does she get clean and sober at age 18. A kindly employment agent overlooks her undistinguished résumé (multiple misdemeanors—and typing at 17 wpm) to find her a modest job delivering sandwiches to office workers. Perhaps now Joon can start over and get off the streets.
Austere, but with its own bleak beauty.