Danika reviews Nevada by Imogen Binnie

Nevada

Nevada is one of the books that I’ve been most excited to read lately. It’s pretty much the first trans lesbian novel I’ve heard of, I like the (weird) cover, the blurb sounding promising, and it’s by a publisher I already like! That’s a lot of positive points! So I was also a little bit nervous about actually reading it, in case I ended up being disappointed. Luckily, from the first page, I already liked the writing style. Here’s the first two paragraphs (warning for S/M, choking):

She’s choking me. She’s really in there, fingers mashing my trachea, and I can’t breathe, Maria thinks.

It occurs to her that she truly can’t breathe–but she can’t bring herself to care. There was a time in her life when this was new, when she was at least as hot for being choked as Steph was for choking her, but now they’ve got an apartment together–a cat, good lighting–and Maria can’t even muster a shiver. She acts like she’s into it.

It’s a style that will definitely appeal to some people and totally turn off others. It’s deeply introspective, in this post-post-modern, post-hipster, over-analyzing, ironic way. Maria disassociates from any emotion, but analyzes herself and her life continuously. The narrative is in third person, but most of it takes place in Maria’s thoughts, as she tries to figure out what she wants from her life and her relationship. She’s stalled, feeling like she’s an expert on being trans now, but not being able to stop thinking about it for twenty minutes. She feels stuck in her job and relationship, but doesn’t know what else to do.

I feel like this will appeal the most to queers in their 20s, or at least, it did to me. I couldn’t help completely relating to Maria’s thought processes:

It’s frustrating but you can’t just be like, Okay brain, think. Because your brain is like, I am thinking! I am thinking at you, and then you’re like, Jesus, brain, relax. I just mean we need to think about this conversation. . . . She’s like, are you listening, brain? This is way too meta, her brain says.

as well as relating to her self-conscious search for authenticity while acknowledging that it is an impossible and self-indulgent quest, and generally trying to establish a sense of identity while also dealing with internalized queer and feminist critiques of any label, idea, or emotion you may have. (Though I am cisgender and therefore can’t pretend to personally understand many of the things that Maria grapples with.) I know that other people may read it and completely roll their eyes at all of this, however, so if you don’t like the writing style and internal monologue by the first three pages, you probably won’t enjoy the book.

Because this is more of an internal struggle, there isn’t much of a plot happening in Nevada. Maria faces a kind of crisis that forces her to face her own apathy in her life, and she grapples with this. Still, although I knew that not much was going to happen in the book, I still was a little disappointed by the ending. There really isn’t any kind of resolution.

A little more than halfway through the novel, you are introduced to another character, James, who carries a lot of the focus from that point onward, though most of the narrative is focused on both Maria and James interacting. The reason I had liked the book so much up to that point is that I really liked Maria, as flawed and navel-gazing as she was. I wasn’t very interested in James–or, more specifically, I didn’t want to move away from Maria. I hadn’t expected another main character to be introduced so late, and I felt cheated out of more of Maria, even though she is present in most of James’s section as well. I often feel this way about a change in point of view halfway through a story, however. I’m okay with alternating if I know it’s going to happen, but if it happens late in the book, I feel like I just got plunged into a different book before I was finished with the last one.

Still, although I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending, I did really like the style of Nevada as well as the characters, especially Maria and Steph (her girlfriend. We get one chapter from her perspective, and I kind of wish we got more.). If the style appeals to you, definitely pick up Nevada, just don’t expect a tidy ending, and do expect a shift in point of view. (As an aside, this book makes me even more hungry for more trans novels, especially trans lesbian ones. I’m glad that Topside Press is making trans narratives a priority, and Nevada definitely sets the bar high.)

Danika reviews The Collection edited by Tom Leger and Riley Macleod

TheCollection

When I first heard about The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, I thought it sounded amazing, but I didn’t think it would be relevant to the Lesbrary. Luckily, I was completely wrong! There are about 9 stories that I consider relevant to the Lesbrary (either bisexual or lesbian women, or genderqueer/genderless/agender stories). That’s a third of the stories in The Collection!

This book really does something that hasn’t really been done before: it’s a professionally published anthology of literary short stories, all featuring trans main characters. There is such a lack of representation of trans people (especially main characters) in literature, that you might expect an anthology to have to stretch to find enough content. Instead, this is a hefty 400 page book which is packed with really high quality stories. Although as with all anthologies, I like some stories better than others, I found the overall quality of writing to be excellent: much better than I would expect from any anthology. Although there are a few fantastical stories, and a superhero story, most of the stories in this collection are realistic and down to earth (one focuses entirely on the main character’s miserable Tuesday working in a coffee shop, dealing with endless microaggressions). The writing flows together well, also. They seem to have similar styles, which makes it pretty easy to move from story to story without getting whiplash. I sometimes get irritated with short stories that end without a real conclusion, as if they were just excerpts from a novel. For the most part, I found the stories in The Collection to be well-crafted and satisfying by their conclusions. Satisfying does not necessarily mean uplifting, though. Many of the stories deal with prejudice, microaggressions, and general discomfort. It can be be uncomfortable to read someone being continually misgendered and misunderstood by the people around them, but they read honestly and as affirmations of many people’s realities, which is necessary and even hopeful in itself. There are also more positive stories included (the superhero one previously mentioned is one), but for the most part The Collection does reflect the reality of being trans in a cissexist world. (Though I am cisgender, so of course I can’t claim to fully understand that reality.)

Short descriptions/impressions of the les/bi/genderqueer/etc stories follow:

“To the New World” by Ryka Aoki: You know what I said about this collection sometimes being uncomfortable to read? The main character in this story, Millie, is completely loveable, but she is into Sierra, a “radical” lesbian who is casually transphobic and racist (Millie is Asian). It is painful to read, but sadly completely believable.

“Other Women” by Casey Platt: Another uncomfortable story. Sophie deals with a tense relationship with her family after coming out as trans, with microaggressions from friends along the way. Only her best friend, Megan, really seems to understand and accept her. And then that gets messed up, too. Sophie seems to be bisexual, but by the end of the story I’m not sure what to think. Really, I think she’s just looking for someone to see her the way she wants to be seen.

“Greenhorn” by K. Tait Jarboe: This was one of my favourites. Olivia is a non-binary bisexual person who happens to regularly be accidentally visiting another dimension. (I’m not sure if they identify as bi, but they are attracted to men and women in the story.) I loved the idea of the story, and the writing was fantastic. I kept stopping to read things aloud to my partner. Like this: “I did know two people from college, and I ruined everything with both of them that same way, which was with sex and my personality.”

“The Queer Experiment” by Donna Ostrowsky: This was another great story, though I couldn’t actually see what the trans content was. In any case, it’s a great lesbian short story. Jennifer is an engineer at a university in the 1920s and, along with another professor and an assistant, is attempting to build a machine that will allow them to see the mystical world of the homosexual. It’s hilarious, even if it technically ends tragically (you know Jennifer ends up in an asylum from the first page.)

“Runaways” by Calvin Gimpelevich: “Runaways” actually has a trans man main character, but it is primarily focused on his best friend and her girlfriend. I loved all of their interactions, and the tension of Nike trying to decide whether to flee her relationship for a less responsible one (her girlfriend is currently trying to take care of her 10-year-old sister while their dad is in jail). The characters are so strong. (Also, Travis is Black and Nike is Filipino, so the story also touches on the intersections of cissexism/heterosexism and racism. Travis especially struggles with this.)

“Winning the Tiger” by Katherine Scott Nelson: This story is about a couple, both non-binary, dealing with being continually misgendered at a state fair. In the author’s bio, Nelson says that this story was once rejected from a mainstream publication for being “too aggressive”, which I think is teaser enough.

“Malediction and Pee Play” by Sherilyn Connelly: Yes, it’s as weird as the title suggests. The main character is technically in an open relationship with her girlfriend, Vash, but while she’s been striking out, Vash is getting closer and closer to her new partner. She attempts to get closer to Vash again, to try to get the sparks of their kinky relationship back, by helping her with a Satanic Black Mass production. But the despite the weird, the emotions at play are very relateable, no matter what your opinion on pee play. Or Satanism.

“Birthrights” by M. Robin Cook: The main character’s wife walks in on her dressed as a woman. Awkwardness ensues.

“Entries” by Riley Calais Harris: I’m not sure how to describe “Entries”. It reads almost like a condensed autobiography. She describes a radical activist who dumped her because she shaves her legs. The last line is “Oh, you know what? That’s probably why I shave my legs.” It’s not a very linear story, but I liked it. The ending is oddly uplifting.

I hope that this convinces you to pick up The Collection, even if you’ve never read any trans books before. It has great stories, a high quality of writing, and several lesbian stories! What more can you ask for?

Danika reviews First Spring Grass Fire by Rae Spoon

From about the first page of First Spring Grass Fire, I was already frustrated, for three reasons: 1) it is very well-written, 2) it is very short, and 3) it is, at the moment, Rae Spoon’s only book. I was dreading getting to the end of the book pretty much the moment I started it.

I first discovered Rae Spoon’s music by their tour with Ivan E. Coyote. I adore Coyote’s storytelling, and Rae Spoon’s music was a great match. I still listen to their music all the time, especially “We Become Our Own Wolves” and “Come On Forest Fire Burn the Disco Down”, so when I heard that Spoon was coming out with a book, I was really excited. First Spring Grass Fire does not disappoint. In a lot of ways, their writing does remind me of Ivan E. Coyote’s. Both talk about fictionalized (?) short stories from their own lives. Both have very easy-to-read, casual styles that simultaneously are deeply moving. Both discuss growing up queer in rural environments.

But Rae Spoon has a style all their own, as well. There are moments of almost poetry in their work. There is also a rawness and urgency to First Spring Grass Fire that is far away from Coyote’s usually positive remembrances of her childhood. Rae Spoon describes growing up trans and queer in a very conservative environment, but that pales to their childhood with their abusive and schizophrenic father. It is definitely, as the back cover says, “quietly devastating, heart-wrenching. . . “, but of course there is also a strength and hope to their memoir, knowing that Spoon escapes and thrives.

This book is intensely personal. Rae Spoon invites the reader into the most painful and difficult moments of their childhood, and shields very little. We get moments, quickly jumping from time to time and location to location. They are incredibly evocative, but they are only brief excerpts. As I have said, it makes me eager to read more of Rae Spoon’s work. I very much hope that they will be writing more, because from this slim collection alone (along with their beautifully written music), Rae Spoon has already been added to my list of favorite, just as emily m. danforth managed to do with her debut book. In case it isn’t obvious, I highly, highly recommend this one, especially for Ivan E. Coyote fans and for people looking for more stories of trans young adults.