Tag Archives: Gender Identity

Review: The Last Chairlift

The Last Chairlift

The Last Chairlift
By John Irving
Simon & Schuster, 9781501189272, October 2022, 912pp.

The Short of It:

It’s been a long time I’ve read Irving but his new book does not disappoint.

The Rest of It:

Rachel Brewster is a slalom skier at the National Downhill and Slalom Championships in 1941. Due to her slight stature, she’s known as Little Ray. Although she’s well-known for her skill on the slopes, she doesn’t come close to winning a medal. Back home in New England, she becomes a ski instructor and has a son named Adam. The son who was conceived while at the Championship.

Little Ray and Adam are part of a very unique family. Although Little Ray had relations which resulted in her pregnancy, Little Ray’s partner is actually her long-time friend Molly. Another friend, Elliot, who happens to be small like Little Ray, is a cross-dresser that is near and dear to everyone, including Adam. In fact, Adam goes out of his way to protect Elliot when his secret is discovered.

If you think this is quite the cast of characters, then you’d be right and that’s not even the half of it! There is also Em, who doesn’t speak but pantomimes what she wants to say, nosy Aunts who are obsessed with Adam’s sexual preferences, oh, and ghosts. Ghosts.

Adam is a writer so some of the story is left up to the reader. Is it fiction that Adam created or is it actually part of his story? The ghosts he sees at the Jerome Hotel could be real, or they could be part of his plot. You see what I mean?

This is a wild ride of a story. At 900 pages, I really couldn’t predict how the story would end or where these characters would end up. What I can tell you is that Irving’s knack for character development is very strong and he continues to use his platform to make some political statements. The entire last part of the book was political. That said, this was probably one of the most unique stories I’ve read in a really long time.

I can’t emphasize enough how unique this story is. It’s a love story, a ghost story, and ripe with sexual politics. These characters will stay with me for a very long time.

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half
By Brit Bennett
Riverhead Books, 9780525536291, June 2020, 352pp.

The Short of It:

The Vanishing Half is a book that must be discussed.

The Rest of It:

Stella and Desiree are twins, living in the small (fictional) town of Mallard, Louisiana. This town is known for its black, light-skinned inhabitants. As young children, they witness the murder of their father by a group of angry white men, and from that point on, the girls, each affected in different ways, step out of their familiar surroundings to begin lives outside of Mallard.

At first, they do this together. Taking odd jobs, sleeping on floors and eventually making a place of their own to call home. But Stella wants more and eventually leaves Desiree behind to pursue what she feels is a better life. A life that should not be held from her, just because she’s black. Desiree is hurt by the abandonment but at the time, doesn’t fully understand Stella’s choices. All she wants throughout the years is to find her sister once again.

This story is told in several parts and jumps into the present day as we meet Jude and Kennedy, the children of Desiree and Stella. We also meet their significant others and as readers, we are brought into Stella’s world as she makes the decision to pass for white. One day, Stella is mistaken for white and just goes along with  it. The concept of “passing” is one that affects more than just Stella as the story unfolds.

The Vanishing Half is a story about identity. Racial identity as well as gender identity (one of the characters, one of my favorite characters is transgendered). These characters are trying to find their way and their true selves and not without a lot of struggle. Some of Stella’s choices will anger you but Bennett wrote her in such a way, that you can’t hold her choices against her. She feels regret for her decisions but as readers we also see why she made these decisions to begin with.

I really liked how the story was structured and how balanced it was. I appreciated the decision to move the characters to California, particularly Los Angeles because as I can tell you, Los Angeles is accepting of a lot and it’s a place where people find themselves all the time. People can be whatever they want here, so having some of the story set in Los Angeles made sense. I really enjoyed the writing and I was lucky enough to be told about the Los Angeles Times Book Club interview with Bennett right after finishing the book so I got to hear her take on the book and it was just a great talk.

I highly recommend The Vanishing Half. Now, I really want to read her first book, The Mothers.

This book completes my summer reading list!

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.