Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Nope Out

I didn't know that Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote another memoir until I saw it on my library's ebook site, and I grabbed it right away.  To recap, I read her first memoir, She's Not There, about coming out as trans, about a dozen years ago.  I enjoyed it very much the first time I read it, though going back to it later I remember feeling that it was a little all over the place. Then I read her first novel, The Planets, published as James Finney Boylan, which I found just flat out confusing, jumbled, and unfunny. [Warning: I knew very little about trans anything 10+ years ago, and my use of quotes may look like scare quotes and just general awkwardness and insensitivity in that review, kthxbai.)

Which brings us to Stuck In the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders.  This sounds like such a fascinating story--Jennifer and her wife Deedie stayed together after her transition and raised their two children as a family. They're not lesbians, and I've been curious about how their family works, because there are so many ways.  Even more, I'm curious about Deedie's perspective on the upheaval in her life that she had no way to see coming, and that did not fulfill any lifelong need of hers.

Alas, I'm only about 30 pages (10%; page numbers are a guess) in and I have to give it up.  As much as there's a story here that I'd like to know more about, I'm vividly reminded of all the reasons I don't want to spend time with Boylan as a narrator.

The main one is how much mockery is happening already.  It's clear that she's invested in seeing herself as funny, but some of the places where she reaches for a witty phrase turn glib and cruel.  Like describing how she met Deedie, she detours (the long way around) to make fun of a guy with a lisp who acted in Richard III when they were in college.  Like, a LONG way around--Deedie was in a play with a friend of James named Boomer, who had previously been in a play with a guy with a speech impediment and a Brooklyn accent.  Cut to a half a page of phonetic Shakespeare. There is literally NO reason for this to be in the book except for a laugh at this guy's expense, which isn't even really funny, because phonetic spellings rarely are.

This is after Jennifer sits down next to another parent at a fencing tournament that her son is in and ends up chatting with a woman who is named after a liquor. There's an actually-funny riff on how this is a thing in Maine (I'll take a good Maine joke any day), which detours into a pointless thing about how often Jennifer gets hit on, which is probably making a point about her sexuality, but really just seemed to make fun of everyone who'd ever hit on her.

And then back to Grenadine or whatever this poor lady's name is, who overshares right off the bat about how her husband is in Iraq and maybe it's better if he doesn't come back because he's so angry and frightening.  Jennifer compares their lives and says something about this woman whose "fondest wish is that her husband would die," which looks to me like MISSING THE POINT OF YOUR OWN STORY.

So this is how far in I am, and I've got almost nothing here except meanness in pursuit of a laugh, often a cheap one.  She tries to be self-deprecating, and those jokes land okay, but it just reminds me of Does This Church Make Me Look Fat and how Rhonda Janzen seemed to think that all the examination she put into her own life gave her the right to be glibly dismissive of everyone else's.

So yeah, I'm done.  Sorry, Boylan--I'm going to read If I Was Your Girl or Redefining Realness or Alex as Well or None of the Above or one of the many other thoughtful books about being trans.

1 comment:

Lianna Williamson said...

"that all the examination she put into her own life gave her the right to be glibly dismissive of everyone else's."

Man, is this ever a thing, and what most often turns me off of memoir.