A furious, joyful memoir of working-class New Jersey and the writing life

A furious, joyful memoir of working-class New Jersey and the writing life

A that celebrates as much as it grieves, rages and broods, Jane Wong's “ Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City ” charts its author's progress from the casinos of New Jersey to the college dorms of Upstate New York, to Hong Kong and Iowa and finally Bellingham, Wash., where she now teaches creative writing at Western Washington University. Composed of 12 linked essays separated by shorter, lyrical interludes on topics ranging from cyberfeminist search engines to dragon fruit to “guts,” the book catalogues the highs and lows of the life, turning over, at length, the joys of acceptance, the ache of rejection, the ecstasy of professional recognition and the sting of casual racism in the field. It reminds readers to treasure the fruits of their labor, as well as the support systems that make success possible. The titular essay — arguably the strongest in the book — takes readers back to the 1980s, to New Jersey, where Wong was born. Wong's parents, like many working-class Chinese immigrants, run a restaurant, but her father's gambling addiction and frequent trips to Atlantic City soon shutter the business and divide the family. Watching her now-single mother struggle to stay afloat, Wong grows cynical and vigilant at a young age: “Underneath those boardwalk boards, there is so much rotting trash.” As Wong grapples with losses and betrayals, her horizon expands beyond her family. She discovers that her father's addiction is endemic in Asian American communities. “Just to be clear,” she writes, “we are targeted. This is no mistake. This can't be boiled down to cultural proclivity for luck. Casino buses roll into Chinatowns across the country like ice cream trucks for a reason.” Ambition is the antihero in ‘Central Places' As Wong's research shows, casinos attract vulnerable communities by masquerading as places where odds are fair and where power circulates. In a sense, Wong's father's resonates with her own travails as a woman of color in academia, which are explored in a subsequent essay titled “Astonished Enough?” Academic institutions, as Wong depicts them, attract students from working-class backgrounds with the […]

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