Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

"Courage is a Gift" (M.S Wordsmith, 2019)

Stories by and about transgender, non-binary and genderqueer people.

An introduction by Marielle S Smith points out that "even when the minorities are present within stories, they are more often than not seen as representatives of the group they belong to instead of individuals in their own right", which sounds fair enough. Ash Roberts in another preliminary article writes about reading a particular book - "It was the first time I'd seen a character even close to me in a story, I cried, tears of relief and joy." I don't read stories hoping for characters I can identify with though glancing throughout Goodreads I know that many people do.

The authors' bios mention no previous publications in magazines I've heard of. One author is 15 years old, apparently.

"Letters to Alix" is a sequence of letters from a tomboy to an imaginary boy the same age. Unrealistically, the first letter dates from when they were 5. Finally the writer decides to become the person they're writing to.

"Remember you're a girl, remember you're a boy" is ok, but doesn't really get going.

"Final memory" is interesting. Someone wakes in a strange land, not alone. She has a flashback about confessing to a girl that she loves her. The girl, straight with a boyfriend, discontinues their friendship. In the strange land there's a (genderneutral?) God-like figure called the Candlemaker who lets the narrator be an extra observer in a flashback so she can watch her past self and see the mistake that led her to the strange, barren, land.

"Post-optimistic" is an essay. After breast-removal, the narrator hoped that people would respond to the narrator the way the narrator wanted. That wish was naive according to the narrator. There's still work to do.

"Not-two" - Another essay. How Buddhism helped someone who was non-binary.

"The blue dress"- a guy recalls when at 5, he tries on a dress and then can't undo the zip. Just a page.

"Covered" - A guy phoning a health insurance call centre asks about sex-change surgery issues. Not enough to the piece - a shame because the dialogue has an edge.

"Courage is a gift" - Keegan practises basketball late, chest bound so tight its painful. He's a trans. Toby, his brother is fine about it. His parents after 5 years are beginning to adapt. Today Keegan's going to come out to his best mate Charley. It works out fine. Keegan's happy.

"A discordant note" - The first-person narrator's a robot, one of many with the same face. Some humans don't like them. Some robots want to be treated more like individuals, thinking that having individual faces will help.

"The Dance of Thunder" - A fairytale. The children of the Minelark family are going to perform music for the "I". Some dignitaries are "Open" (i.e. have come out?). When it's Snap's turn to perform he bottles out. He tries on ballerina shoes. They feel right and everyone (parents too) are happy. At the end Snap is "comfortable in herself"

"Student of the week" - The main character, who's 15 and wants to be called Cyrus, is called into the head's office. The School priest is there (it's a Catholic school). The head calls Cyrus Emily and insists that she undergoes therapy. Cyrus escapes, calls a help line and feels better.

"Remembering the journey" - Sera recalls the risk of coming out to friends, especially given that she was once rather a social outcast. She recalls sessions with a therapist. She recalls 2 years ago, wondering whether to take the hormone drugs before her on the table. Her life hadn't changed as much as she'd expected. At the end, she doesn't "regret a thing."

"Kaput" - A bodiless entity appears in limbo, not initially knowing how to move or talk. 2 more appear. They try to understand their situation. Then they disappear.

"Guyliner" - the first person narrator (not cis female presumably) is chatting away with someone else who's putting on make-up too. "The real me was messed up before and I needed to lose myself". Or to be the real me.

"Firestarter" - Avi, 24, (trans, on hormones) (they/them) meets an old family friend, Gwen, at a feminist meeting. Gwen is anti-trans, anti-testosterone. After the meeting Avi realises that Gwen might have stolen Avi's badge. She's tipped off about where it might be. Avi drives to a forest cabin in the middle of nowhere to retrieve the badge. The cabin's empty. The car won't re-start. Throughout the piece Avi had imagined the act of chopping wood in the snow as a child. They do it now. The car's mended. On the drive home Avi passes Gwen and stops to talk to her. She hasn't changed her mind, nor does she have a badge. She stops for gas, chances upon Helen, an old trans friend who'd given her the badge. They promised to stay in touch. At the end Avi thinks that they (i.e. Avi) wouldn't want another life - they could see some beauty in the life they had.

"Chapter sixteen" - Alu, 12, a she with the beginnings of a beard, is heading for the capital, Tadora, for the ceremony where dragons are bound to their riders. She tricks her way into the city.

I found several of the pieces interesting. I felt they could have done with further development. There were too many predictable happy endings for my liking, too many pieces that focus on the coming-out moment, wondering whether parents and friends will take it well.

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