A wry, tender portrait of a young woman—finally free to decide her own path, but unsure if she knows herself well enough to choose wisely—from a captivating new literary voice.
The plan is to leave. As for how, when, to where, and even why—she doesn’t know yet. So begins a journey for the twenty-four-year-old narrator of Days of Distraction. As a staff writer at a prestigious tech publication, she reports on the achievements of smug Silicon Valley billionaires and start-up bros while her own request for a raise gets bumped from manager to manager. And when her longtime boyfriend, J, decides to move to a quiet upstate New York town for grad school, she sees an excuse to cut and run.
Moving is supposed to be a grand gesture of her commitment to J and a way to reshape her sense of self. But in the process, she finds herself facing misgivings about her role in an interracial relationship. Captivated by the stories of her ancestors and other Asian Americans in history, she must confront a question at the core of her identity: What does it mean to exist in a society that does not notice or understand you?
Equal parts tender and humorous, and told in spare but powerful prose, Days of Distraction is an offbeat coming-of-adulthood tale, a touching family story, and a razor-sharp appraisal of our times.
A startlingly original and deeply moving debut—kaleidoscopic, funny, heart-rending, beautifully observed, and formally daring. It struck me as a new variety of novel, a work of art roughly in the tradition of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, reminding us that there is no difference between the political and the spiritual—everyone is, like the narrator, trying to be free, in order to love and be loved, but terrible forces set loose in the world—racism, corporatism—create obstructions in the path, more for some than for others, creating a political and a moral catastrophe. The accomplishment here is the way that Chang manages to embody this struggle in one quirky, highly self-aware, beautiful human soul, and to engage the reader completely, via the clarity and honesty of the language and her deep insights into human nature. Chang here establishes herself as one of the most important of the new generation of American writers.
Alexandra Chang’s immaculate debut novel, Days of Distraction, is a wholly engaging joy to read. Chang writes with wit and sharpness as she curates moments, observations and histories that together make something of beautiful depth and significance. It takes great bravery to make art of so many of those things we fear and love. An important, gratifying read.
—Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah