cover image Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis

Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis

Grace Lavery. Seal, $29 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5416-2065-0

Essayist and UC Berkeley professor Lavery debuts with a surreal speculative memoir that’s by turns engrossing and impenetrable. As indicated by the book’s subtitle, Lavery aims to rub out the dividing line between the intellectual and the bawdy to subvert the typical transgender memoir (or, as one friend interprets the genre: “expositions of trans life as it is lived”). Recounting how she solved her “penis problem” and began taking synthetic estrogen, Lavery explores transcendental erotic self-realization, her history of drug and alcohol use, and the paradigmatic concept of the penis (“an organ defined, at least in the Lacanian tradition, by its failure to be a phallus”) through absurdist tall tales. She receives a series of bizarre letters from a group of clowns; relishes a sexually charged FAQ for finger limes (a podlike type of citrus) from “Hole Foods”; and ruminates on a parodic column about Little Shop of Horrors from Trump biographer (and former media mogul turned convicted faudster) Conrad Black. It’s not the blurring of distinctions between fantasy and reality that clouds the book’s clarity, however, but Lavery’s deeply academic discourse; without a comprehensive knowledge of Dickens and Lacan, many readers will too often be left in the dark trying to decipher what it is Lavery is attempting to say. LGBTQ literati will find much to explore, but others may have more homework to do first. Agent: Alison Lewis, Zoë Pagnamenta. (Feb.)