Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City

Tin House. May 2023. 288p. ISBN 9781953534675. $27.95. MEMOIR
Poet Wong (creative writing, Western Washington Univ.; How To Not Be Afraid of Everything) contemplates her childhood as a “restaurant baby” in Atlantic City, NJ. When Wong’s mother was pregnant with her, she polled customers at their Jersey Shore Chinese restaurant to find out what she should name her daughter. She hoped her daughter’s Western given name would facilitate assimilation. The author makes no attempt to present her life, and the lives of her parents, as immigrant success stories. Rather, she makes clear that anyone can have a messy childhood, including members of the so-called “model minority.” Wong’s father ultimately gambles away the restaurant, her parents divorce, and Wong’s mother takes a night-shift job as a postal clerk. The family was so impoverished that at times Wong’s mother had to seek back-alley dental care in NYC’s Chinatown. This memoir is candid about the effects of Wong’s absent father, her high school years spent shoplifting, and her dysfunctional relationships with emotionally abusive men as an adult. The book also addresses issues such as the fetishization of Asian women and the racism Wong encountered at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
VERDICT Wong’s insights are both brilliant and scathing. Highly recommended for its originality, poetic language, and raw honesty.
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