Book Review: The Masker by Torrey Peters

We all have heard of Torrey Peters right now. Haven’t you? Gorgeous trans-woman writing stories centering trans-women for trans people. Racy, honest, raw writing that might make us, cis-het, folks uncomfortable, googling a whole lot and feeling like we were not in on the secret. And that is a good thing.

But before unconventional relationships between three woman trying to raise a baby together, there were other novellas, like The Masker, which Peters self-published and sold on her website (or you could get an e-book for free). A few weeks back, she announced that there was to be no more. She was working on revising her work, which would be published by Random House as an affordable paperback.

But while we wait for that to happen, let me tell you about the original, un-revised version of The Masker, a story like no other I have ever read before.

Krys is young and pretty. She has recently transitioned and goes to a famous conference in Vegas for transwomen and cross-dressers. She’s shy and feeling out of place and an older, confident and experienced transwoman wants to take her under her wing and protect her from all the pain that she had to go through when she transitioned. But Krys has a long-time fantasy of force-feminization and being objectified by a handsome guy, and there he is. Handsome and with a reputation for being a bad boy. He seems into her, so will Krys do the right thing?

Peters does a fantastic job at painting her characters with nuance. They are flawed, vulnerable, scarred by pain and life, at times self-serving, but always very real. It feels like an honest look into experiences that are very far from mainstream literature, being mostly centered on cis-het women or occasionally, on gay men. So honest that at times, it feels invasive. It feels voyeuristic. It is erotic and dark and, at the same time, speaks to moral dilemmas that come with trying to be sexually honest.

I can’t wait to see what revisions brings on. In the meantime, I will hold to my now out-of-stock paperback like the treasure it is.

Book Review: How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

“However many masks we invent and deploy, in the end we cannot control what other people see when they look at us.” – Saeed Jones, How We Fight For Our Lives.

I had been meaning to read Saeed Jones’ memoir How We Fight For Our Lives all year. I had tickets to see him in Dallas last March but then the pandemic happened. All the wait was worth it. I loved it. So personal, and real and beautifully written. Saeed Jones grew up in Lewisville, TX not far from where I live. Raised by a single mom, a Buddhist, and learning how to love himself when the world has only tough words for gay Black men. His journey is inspiring, as he shows us how we all hate ourselves, hurt ourselves before making peace and embracing ourselves in all our complexities. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Book Review: La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

This is a queer coming-of-age novella based in rural Equatorial Guinea. I must say I really liked it. It’s the story of a 16 year old girl growing up in a village in Equatorial Guinea near the border with Gabon, sometime in the first decade of the XXIst century. Her mother died at childbirth before her father could pay the bride price, and she is raised by her grandmother. She doesn’t know her father, not even his name, and longs for a normal family. Her grandma is obsessed with getting her husband to get rid of his second wife, and the whole village blames her gay uncle for every misfortune under the skies.

What I find most memorable about this novel is the use of language to portray invisibility. The gay uncle is called man-woman, since his attraction for men gets him to be considered by his tribe as feminine. But there’s no word for what our young narrator is: a woman in love with a woman. Her family rejects her feelings: she cannot be something that cannot be named. If it cannot be named, it doesn’t exist. Her uncle is ostracized for his obvious non-conformance, but her? She can slide under the radar as long as she keeps her feelings private. And invisibility is a double edged sword: she can be left alone to be her in the shadows, but she will never be able to be free to be her, to claim her rights.

Book Review: Memorial or A Study on Relationships

I am a firm believer in second chances. Sometimes a book is not for you because of the place you are in as a reader or your own bias. But all authors deserve to be read again, and their stories must be told.

Though not a fan of Bryan Washington’s “Lot”, in that spirit I picked up his newest novel “Memorial”, coming out on October 6th, 2020 by Riverhead Books. I was taken by the maturity as a storyteller that is evident from “Lot” to “Memorial”, his humor and how accurately he portrays domesticity in relationships; the struggles to make a relationship work and how love is not always so clear-cut. This is a perfect novel to be dissected, analysed and discussed by book clubs; there is so much food for thought, so many issues to be discussed from race, multiculturalism, identity, love, marriage, commitment. Mike and Benson try to figure out their relationship, their bond to each other, as they discover who they are and who they want to be; and their different ethnic and economical backgrounds, family histories, play a role in how the relate to one another and the outside world. The fact that the story is told intermittently from each of their point of view, shows the reader how in relationships there are gaps in communication, assumptions on how the other person feels or what he/she/they think, and so many things left unsaid that contribute to creating fractions. It is really a fascinating story about love and relationships and finding a way to make it all work. I cannot recommend it enough.