Debut novelist Timothy Wang creates a fascinating character study in James, a recently out, virginal MIT student. Slant addresses alienation by race and sexuality in a funny, hip manner. James follows dating tips from Cosmo magazine and remains very tuned to what guys want. He’s a virgin at the outset of the novel and, similar to other linear-minded MIT students, James makes a formula and collects empirical data regarding gay dating. At a coffee shop, he meets the older and quite handsome Stan. It’s his first sexual encounter.
My hypothesis had been verified, which left no doubt about one thing: I wouldn’t be bringing a nice girl home to meet my mother, ever.
The two start to date or at least regularly hook up. James learns new gay terms such as potato queen (nonwhites dating whites only) and rice queen (gay whites dating only Asian men). He learns what he likes and doesn’t like sexually. Stan takes him out to all the local gay clubs. He also introduces James to drugs: first marijuana, then Ecstasy and other stronger drugs.
Wang excels in descriptions of MIT, Harvard and Boston. I wasn’t quite sure in what time period the story was supposed to occur because he mentions Machine (still operational) but also Avalon and Axis (no longer open). He writes amusing descriptions of the gay yuppies in the South End. He also tackles working-class Dorchester with aplomb.
James struggles to understand his feelings toward Stan and begins to realize that Stan’s a player. James thinks he’s in love; but Stan dumps him and moves on to another cute young guy. James begins to date his friend Michael, a medical resident, who’s had a crush on him from the day they met at a Harvard party. He’s determined to win back Stan. Of course Stan is mysterious and Michael is predictable. Who wants to date a predictable, safe guy? Stan does call James a few times to hook-up and convinces James to try bareback sex which sends a freaked out James to the student health center several times to be tested.
"I was getting an education in gay culture and didn’t like the program. I hated the way everything was segmented. For such a small community, people were divided along the lines of the different races and the different types of desires. "
Wang makes astute observations on the gay scene - its competitiveness, its codes, those that excel within its walls and those that struggle to fit in. James is that latter guy. He’s obsessed with being Asian. He doesn’t like his eyes. He wants to look more American. He visits a plastic surgeon and puts down money from eye surgery and a rhinoplasty.
Slant is a quick, witty novel about love, trust and developing a sense of self.
Slant, by Timothy Wang. Publisher: Tincture (June 8, 2011) Literary fiction. Paperback, 222 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1590211212
by TimothY Wang