Slant is a wonderfully sad, realistic, and compelling bildungsroman about James, a young, gay and nerdy first generation Chinese American student at MIT. When we first meet him, James has already come out to himself, and we follow his painful journey as he learns how to be gay and navigate his romantic and familial relationships, while also struggling with his racial and ethnic identity. We witness him fall in love and lose his virginity to Stan, a young promiscuous artist without prospects. Next is Michael, a young upper-class Massachusetts patrician sugar daddy, an MD in residence. James learns about “rice queens” and “potato queens,” and struggles with his desire and attempts to be more “white” like the Abercrombie & Fitch boys that everyone seems to prefer, even considering eye surgery.
James comes out to his very staid and traditional Chinese parents; it doesn’t go well. He graduates from MIT in three years (he is a very smart nerd!), and though he is accepted to Harvard Medical School (his dying mother’s great wish) he instead returns to his homeland in Beijing to teach high school students for a year. He is still friends with Stan and Michael. He drops his adopted American name James and returns to his Chinese name, Zan.
This first novel is very well written and gripping. In line with James’/Zan’s nerdy scholarship, it has a fair number of mathematical formulae and chemical symbols (for the drugs he tries), plus some computer programming. The version I reviewed was an advance reader’s copy, and I hope the book gets another thorough proofread. Some of the language could be attributed to James’/Zan’s parents’ diction, but it’s out of place with the novel’s general style.
But these little problems do not detract from the strong sweep of the story. Timothy Wang has written a great first novel, and the author’s blurb promises a second. Any library or reader interested in new work by young gay writers, especially of non-European ethnicities, will want this book.
Reviewer: James Doig Anderson
Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science