The bestselling author of Midwives and The Law of Similars continues his tradition of incorporating social issues into his moving narratives. Transsexuality goes mainstream in this Scarlet Letter for a softer, gentler but more complicated age. Allison Banks--42 years old, heterosexual, long divorced, mother of a college student and a grade school teacher in a picturesque Vermont village--meets single, attractive, attentive, 35-year-old Dana Stevens when she takes his film class at a nearby college. Early on in the relationship, Dana confesses that he has always believed he was female, though he desires women, too--and he is soon to undergo a long-planned sex change operation. Despite this revelation, and despite her reservations, Allison invites Dana to move in with her, and they have great sex right up until the night before the operation in Colorado, where Allison has loyally accompanied Dana for post-op and moral support. On their return to Vermont, he--now physically and emphatically ""she""--continues to share Allison's bed and her house, though nothing can be the same as it was. Allison's ex-husband, Vermont Public Radio president Will, now her good friend, and their daughter, Carly, cope well with the situation, but the close-knit community is less understanding. Questions of what constitutes community tolerance are explored here, but the novel's central focus is on the definition of sex and gender in the characters' personal lives. Allison, Dana, Carly and Will express their views in alternating first person chapters, and transcripts from a fictional NPR All Things Considered series on Dana and her operation provide additional narrative background. Gender is central to who we are, Bohjalian concludes, but not perhaps to who we love. Sex, on the other hand, expresses who we are. Bohjalian's sometimes simplistic characterizations diminish the emotional impact of the novel, and his abundant research on gender dysfunction often gives the book a curiously flat, documentary quality. Nevertheless, Bohjalian humanizes the transsexual community and explains the complexities of sex and gender in an accessible, evenhanded fashion, making a valuable contribution to a dialogue of social and political import. 50,000 first printing; NPR sponsorship; cross-promotion with Vintage publication of The Law of Similars; 15-city author tour. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2000 Release date: 05/01/2000 Genre: Fiction
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