Hi everyone! I hope you’re keeping well! Twenty-twenty has been a wild ride for us all but something that really made my year just that little bit better was receiving my first physical ARC – a copy of Detransition, Baby that Serpent’s Tail so kindly sent me in return for an honest review (emailling publishers isn’t as scary as I thought!). Although I’m not the biggest literary fiction/adult contemporary fiction reader, this was one of my most anticipated books of 2021, and it definitely didn’t disappoint!
Title: Detransition, Baby
Author: Torrey Peters
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction, LGBT, Adult
Synopsis: Reese almost had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York City, a job she didn’t hate. She had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child. But then her girlfriend, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, and everything fell apart. Now Reese is caught in a self-destructive pattern: avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men.
Ames isn’t happy either. He thought detransitioning to live as a man would make life easier, but that decision cost him his relationship with Reese–and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her. When Ames’s boss and lover, Katrina, reveals that she’s pregnant with his baby–and that she’s not sure whether she wants to keep it–Ames wonders if this is the chance he’s been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family–and raise the baby together?
This provocative debut is about what happens at the emotional, messy, vulnerable corners of womanhood that platitudes and good intentions can’t reach. Torrey Peters brilliantly and fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.
Torrey Peters is not shy when it comes to making her novel pack a punch. The book opens with one of our main characters, Reese, pondering why married men are so attractive to her, while she is sneaking around with one of said married men. That is, until her night is interrupted by her ex, Ames, a detransitioned trans woman, phoning her to ask her if she wants to be a mother to his and his boss’ baby. Straight away you’re thrown into this strange dynamic but you never once feel overwhelmed as Torrey Peters’ powerful, evocative writing welcomes you into this whirlwind of a book.
Straight away you discover that Reese is not a likeable main character – in fact, none of them are. Aside from her dalliances with married men, Reese cheats on several of her partners, Katrina, Ames’s boss and carrier of his baby, drunkenly outs Ames one evening to their business partners in a fit of anger, and Ames is often insensitive to both of them all the while swithering over whether he wants to be a father or not. But it all adds to the charm of the novel – it’s gritty and realistic and leaves your sympathies with each character always hanging in the balance.
As you might expect, there is a great deal of discussion on gender in this book. Torrey writes about gender in such a powerful way, examining both the cruelty and freedom of gender and gender expression, not only with regards to trans people, but also cis people. and it is made very plain throughout the book that this is an analysis of the experiences of white trans people in particular. With regards to Ames, we get to understand detransition and the fluctuation of identity, as well as the prejudices faced by him having detransitioned. There is also a great deal of discussion surrounding pregnancy, motherhood and loss of a child, alongside the topic of cishet people co-opting queerness, both of which I found very thought-provoking.
My one gripe with the novel was that, to me, the synopsis suggests that this would be the story of the three of them trying to figure out how to be co-parents and raising this child, but I would say a large majority of the book is dedicated to Reese and Ames’ past as lovers. This is, of course, a very important aspect of the story, but the pregnancy in question almost felt, to me, to take a backseat. I do know, however, that for many other people this will be something that they really enjoy, as it is such a reflective, character driven story.
If you’re new to literary fiction, this may not be the book for you, but for a staunch lover of the genre this is a delicious, heartbreaking debut that will leave you dying for more of Torrey Peters’ beautiful prose.