cover image Ponyboy


Eliot Duncan. Norton, $16.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-324-05122-0

Duncan’s triumphant and visceral debut follows a trans-masculine narrator wrestling with gender identity and drug use. Ponyboy, an American living in Paris, takes refuge in the consoling presence of Toni, a trans-woman childhood friend, while his girlfriend, Baby, is out of town. He also drinks heavily and uses cocaine, ketamine, molly, and whatever else he can get his hands on, yearning to be seen as a man (Baby would prefer him as a butch woman). A love triangle develops upon Baby’s return, after she takes an interest in a man who assaulted Ponyboy. As Ponyboy slides deeper into addiction, he becomes alienated from the friends who are trying to help him. The swirling narrative eventually finds Ponyboy back home in the Midwest for rehab, then with family in Vienna, and back in Paris, where he summons the courage to be himself. Duncan’s writing can be indulgent—“Only a poet’s voice will do. This is The Angel Natalie’s. Coming here, wings long and true”—but he makes up for it with sinewy descriptions of Ponyboy’s transition (“My movements are welding into a smoother, masculine strut”) and by channeling Ponyboy’s ache to transform (“I wanna make loud the parts they strangle,” he writes in an email to real-life trans activist author Paul Preciado). Though a bit messy at times, this rings true. (June)