In her debut, Wang examines the difficulties of immigration as sources of pain, connection, and confusion between friends, family, and would-be lovers.
Wang's narrators come from all walks of life, from the poorest factory towns of rural Henan to the richest high-rises of Beijing. Yet they all struggle with feelings of alienation and distance from the people they should love the most—a state of unbelonging and disconnection spurred by migration. In "Mott Street in July," overworked immigrant parents drift away from their three children, leaving them to survive on their own in New York's Chinatown. In "Fuerdai to the Max," a spoiled rich kid who counts himself one of the "fuerdai," or "second-generation rich," tries to outrun the consequences of a brutal assault designed to keep the powers of his social circle intact. "Why should I care?" he asks himself, defensively. "Nobody cared what I did. I never had anybody to answer to." Wang's stories are spare and haunting, with endings that leave characters just as unsettled as their beginnings. Only occasionally do they turn tender, as in the exquisite "Vaulting the Sea," in which an Olympic hopeful decides to end his career after realizing his diving partner will never love him back. The collection is strongest when it fully embraces Wang's love of the uncanny as a way to parse generational misunderstanding or the surreality of contemporary life. "Echo of the Moment" offers a satisfying contemporary riff on the Narcissus myth and digital culture. Echo, a young Chinese-American student living in Paris, steals the couture from a suicide's apartment only to find that the clothes transform her into a viral sensation online—and that they might drive her to the same fate. And "The Art of Straying Off Course" moves in a compressed narrative time reminiscent of Woolf's To the Lighthouse, allowing an old woman—on her way to vacation in space—the opportunity to examine her early choices in life and love with the tender gaze of experience. "Behind me, through the window, all the places I am trying to leave behind," she thinks. "All that wonderful chaos, horizontal, never-ending."
A sharp and poignant collection.