The Sense of Wonder by Matthew Salesses is a novel about an Asian American basketball player, Won, his desire for fame, and the problems that arise through racism. Won gets on the Knicks where he is overshadowed by the star player, Powerball!, and yet when given the chance, for seven straight games, Won leads them to victory. However, between Won, Powerball!, and a Knicks reporter, Robert Sung, a contentious dynamic emerges. First, Robert is also Asian American and felt somewhat slighted by the NBA when he tried and failed to succeed on a team (he got injured and his career was over). Robert then takes his anger out on Won through slights of his reporting. Both Won and Robert look up to Powerball! as the player they want to be. Powerball! is also married to Robert’s crush, Brit, and it all comes to a head that Robert is cheating on his girlfriend with Brit.
All these relationships are framed within the context of a K-drama because Won’s girlfriend, Carrie, is a K-drama writer. Throughout the story there are subplots with Carrie’s sister getting cancer, Won proposing to Carrie, Carrie getting her own K-drama produced, and the way white people treat Won as the first Asian American in the NBA. Salesses structures his novel in POVs that switch between Won, Carrie, and descriptions of K-dramas. It was a great way to frame the basketball player’s relationships, following and rejecting the tropes it discusses. Near the end, the novel zooms out in time, summarizing what happens to each character as if they too have tragic and fairy tale endings.
I was very much affected by the scene where they stage Carrie’s sister’s funeral with her still alive and present. Knowing the context that Salesses’s own wife died of cancer was a beautiful way to defy his wife’s fate. I also really enjoyed the way the characters interacted with each other. Overall, I found the betrayals, relationships, loves, tragedies, and passions all work together in a fast-paced novel.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.