SHE'S NOT THERE
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book-‘Em
February 27, 2004) She’s Not There,
the memoir by Jennifer Finney Boylan, is the story of her
transgender transformation from James, a married father of
two, to Jenny, now known as “Maddy” by her two
sons. Boylan, a published novelist, is the co-chairperson
of the English Dept. at Colby College and best friend of Pulitzer
Prize winning author Richard Russo.
This narrative flashbacks from the first realization, as early
as age three, that Jim was “in the wrong body,”
to life today, after gender reassignment surgery, as Jenny.
It is intriguing as well as informative. There was consensus
among Book-‘Em members however, that the writing was
only fair, a fact that is underscored by the contrast in quality
with Richard Russo’s lengthy Afterward.
Russo writes with a depth of feeling lacking in Boylan’s
breezy style. There is the pervading sense that significant
elements of his/her story are missing, most notably in the
depiction of wife Grace’s reaction to this revelation.
Jenny tells her story. But we did not necessarily feel it.
The reader will learn of The Benjamin Standards of Care (a
road map of the process leading to sex change surgery) and
how common the transgender condition is. Indeed, six of our
members had personal stories of transgender individuals to
relate to the group.
Our discussion focused on reacting to Jim, Grace, and Russo
with some surprising sympathies, or lack there of, expressed.
Notably, the concept of sexual identity proved difficult to
address. Stereotypes? Hormones? Cultural acclimation? Eleven
women unable to assert what it “feels like to be female.”
This is an easy and worthwhile read. Book groups will find
myriad discussion possibilities and hopefully, enjoy a meeting
as lively as our own.
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