“Trans-Sister Radio” by Chris Bohjalian
Synopsis: With Trans-Sister Radio, Chris Bohjalian, author of the bestseller Midwives, again confronts his very human characters with issues larger than themselves, here tackling the explosive issue of gender.
When Allison Banks develops a crush on Dana Stevens, she knows that he will give her what she needs most: attention, gentleness, kindness, passion. Her daughter, Carly, enthusiastically witnesses the change in her mother. But then a few months into their relationship, Dana tells Allison his secret: he has always been certain that he is a woman born into the wrong skin, and soon he will have a sex-change operation. Allison, overwhelmed by the depth of her passion, and finds herself unable to leave Dana. By deciding to stay, she finds she must confront questions most people never even consider. Not only will her own life and Carly’s be irrevocably changed, she will have to contend with the outrage of a small Vermont community and come to terms with her lover’s new body–hoping against hope that her love will transcend the physical.
2 out of 5 stars
I really had high hopes for this book, even though the title is a tortured pun. Unfortunately, I feel underwhelmed.
The story is told from four different view points; that of Dana who ends up in a relationship with Allison right before going through gender reassignment surgery. Allison, who is a divorced grade school teacher and the mother of teen aged Carly. Carly who dealing with her mother’s lover as she leaves for college, and lastly Will, Carly’s father and Allison’s ex-husband.
Let’s begin with what I liked. My favorite thing about this book was the internal struggle that Allison goes through. Her male lover transitions into her female lover and she really struggles with that as she is not a lesbian. She never sees Dana as something other than what she is – a woman after the surgery and Allison deeply mourns that. I often feel that in relationships where one partner transitions, there is huge pressure for the remaining partner to stay in the relationship even if that’s not the right thing for them. I felt that this part of the story was realistic and sensitively written.
Trans-phobia is also a huge issue in this story. It’s set in a small town and the townspeople are not happy that a deviant, a man in a dress is parading around their town and making a mockery of them. Allison feels immense pressure to leave her job and is even asked to move out of the center of town so no one has to see her and Dana together. The towns people are brutal and friends quickly become enemies. It’s scary how quickly that shifted in the book, and eye opening.
I didn’t like a couple of things. One glaring thing is the use of the words “tranny” and “trannies”. Those words are typically used as derogatory terms. I understand the need to take back certain words, especially in the LQBTQIA+ community, but this was not an appropriate forum.
Also, back to the titles radio reference. Both Will and Carly work with NPR broadcasting and use Dana’s story as Carly’s big break. Dana actually had very little to say during the broadcasting, but everyone else offered their opinion. It was a little jarring how her story was used with very little thought to Dana herself.
And, finally, that odd happy ending. That ending made this book the complete opposite of a book about transgender issues and relationships. Just weird and a little too neatly tied up in a bow.
Not a great book, but not the worst.
The cover is surprisingly lovely.