I've held onto this book for awhile, always hesitating to read it because I knew it would be tough read - reviews spoke of the rough style of the writing, and the subject matter - a young woman deciding to pass as a man in the 1950-60s midwest? That is some dark territory.
It's important to write about, and important to provide an honest picture for those who want to know what its like. Leslie Feinberg did not claim this novel to be biographical, but it felt honest. I understand what people meant by the style being dry and awkward, but I read this as a deliberate stylistic choice on the part of the author. Jess has felt different from earliest childhood, has been mocked and browbeaten and even hospitalized by her family as a child for crossdressing, which was still standard practice not so long ago. Personal expression is not going to come easily. Poetry speaks to Jess, but its hard to speak poetry yourself. Jess still tries.
The book is narrated from Jess' perspective, narrating school days, first visits to friendly bars, friends made and, inevitably, run-ins with the police. These are brutal depictions of state-sanctioned violence. The life was a hard one and people came in and out of your life with no guarantees of permanence and Jess' friends come and go and very few of them stick. A reader can only absorb so many monosyllabic male names without any description before they all blur together.
Its a shame the book is still out of print, its essential, and even now there are few windows into this world.