It is nearly too perfect that the French word genre denotes both literary genre and gender. For if Scott Esposito’s quietly powerful essays found in The Surrender do not defy genre, they certainly do reveal the plasticity of memoir and then stretch the form to its limits. Somewhat the same could be said for the author’s own exploration of gender.
In this book, the acclaimed critic sets before the reader a “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to inhabit the clothing, the actions, the spaces, and the identity of a woman. Yet instead of forming these facts into a chronological narrative, he rejects the constraints of beginnings, middles, and endings, and bravely allows for the openness of his own story.
There are both fiction and non-fiction books that recount the experiences of trans women. And you should read them. But I have trouble finding resonances between those books and this. The slowly softspoken prose, with its ebb and flow of emotional tides, is something I would be more likely to associate with music or poetry or a certain kind of literary theory. I was reminded less of Juliet Jacques’s Trans and more of Anohni’s (of Antony and the Johnsons) album I Am Bird Girl, or Barthes’s Discours amoureux.
Rivka Galchen: Canadian-born, Oklahoma-raised, New York City-dwelling author of a novel (Atmospheric Disturbances), a collection of stories (American Innovations) and the forthcoming Little Labors (New Directions, 17 May 2016). Her style is something of the whimsically eerie and she is one of those great writer’s writers who likes to be fairly clear (while also a bit mysterious) about what literary influences are swimming around up there in her imaginary.
Here are my notes on a thing – the toilette – in Rivka Galchen’s American Innovations.
The way that Galchen describes the “toilette” – or, what most people think of as getting dressed and making oneself look as presentable as possible – has to be the most perceptive and true depiction I’ve ever come across. There are a few passages in the collection about looking in the mirror or about scaling the odd bumps and curves of feminine territory with the trappings of contemporary style that I read over, and over, and over again. I read them aloud to my husband saying, “Honey! This is IT! This right here. This is what it’s liiiiiike!”