Wednesday, 9 February 2022

Review – Casey Plett’s A Dream of a Woman: Living the Lives of Trans Women

 Fiction lets us experience the daily lives of the characters in a way no other form does, and the time is particularly apt for readers to walk for a while in the footsteps of trans women. Casey Plett is a prizewinning Canadian author and trans woman with two previous highly acclaimed books to her name: the novel Little Fish and the short story collection A Safe Girl to Love.

Her latest short story collection, A Dream of a Woman, falls in between the short story and novel forms, as it includes separate short stories and also a long story broken into shorter fiction that appears here and there throughout the book. This more sustained tale is about David and Iris, who meet at school and have a friendship, become a couple, and then develop a more complex relationship that they keep coming back to for years as David transitions.

The other stories reflect similar themes to Plett’s first short story collection, with trans women living their experience in as many varied ways as there are characters. The stories can be positive but not in a simplistic way as they show the stream of consciousness of the women as they search for love.

Plett is not a highly descriptive or poetic writer, instead bringing her characters to life in specific detail and plain-spoken prose that also evokes the settings, across Canada and the US. Like David, the other characters are at various stages of transition and make different decisions about surgery and relationships. Deeply aware of their own changing bodies, they show the reader how they feel and what transition is in practical and emotional terms. I learnt from this, even though as a trans ally I have read widely already.

The stories don’t shy away from sex and are specific and vivid rather than erotic and definitely not written to titillate. They portray trans women in a way that lets the reader step into their world, drawing us in and increasing our understanding. With so much misunderstanding about trans people, good fiction is a perfect way to counteract the raised voices of so much discourse on this subject.

The stories are not strong on plot, pulling the reader in and holding them in the world Plett creates, rather than motivating the reader on to find out what’s going to happen. The longer story of David and Iris is helpful in this, as it does follow the plot of their lives and how they and their relationship develop. I was left wanting to know more about them, which is a good sign.

I listened to this as an audiobook read by the author and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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