Queer Literary Fiction Recs

Hi everyone, I hope you’re doing well! Today’s post is all about queer literary fiction, which isn’t really a genre I personally love to read. I find that there can be a lot of hits and a lot of misses, but that the vast majority of them just go right over my head! But my hopes for today’s post are to help you find something that might work for you if, like me, you’re not a huge reader of the genre, just to make that first leap a little bit easier!

Lesbian Literary Fiction

Starting off, we have literary fiction with lesbian main characters! First is Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett, which is a gruesome, dark but at times funny book that follows out main character, Jessa-Lynn, in the aftermath of her father’s suicide in the middle of their family’s taxidermy shop. Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) is a melancholy read about a lesbian trans woman dealing with the grief of losing her straight trans best friend and about how pop culture can act as something healing. The only book I’ve read on this list so far is All Men Want to Know by Nina Bouraoui – it’s a semi-autobiographical novel about a young French-Algerian woman coming of age, realising she’s a lesbian, and exploring her childhood in Algeria and the lesbian bars of 1980s Paris. Everyone in this Room will Someday be Dead by Emily Austen is a book that is going to be on my July TBR and follows Gilda who is constantly thinking about death, and while en route to therapy at her local church is mistaken for someone who is there for a job interview. Too embarrassed to say otherwise, Gilda ends up working at the church’s reception (despite being a stout atheist) all the while dealing with a new relationship and writing letters to the deceased ex-receptionist’s friend, pretending to be her, when she finds out that the old receptionist may have died from suspicious causes. Finally, we have Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward, which was longlisted for the 2020 Man Booker Prize! This book follows a lesbian married couple who are trying for a baby when one morning one of the women wakes up screaming that a bug has crawled into her eye and is stuck, while her wife, a scientist, argues that it’s completely impossible – and this calls their entire relationship into question.

Gay Literary Fiction

The first book in this subsection is Everything Is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person by Daniel Zomparelli which is a collection of interconnected short stories. These stories feature gay men looking for love in the age of dating apps, stealing office supplies, fearing happiness and even having threesomes with ghosts! A book that, this time, reached the shortlist of the 2020 Man Booker Prize is Real Life by Brandon Taylor, which follows Wallace, a Black, gay university student in the midst of a biochemistry degree, who keeps himself at a distance from the rest of his friend group, until one summer various events conspire to try and break down his defences. A book I picked up a couple of months back and enjoyed was Let’s Get Back to the Party by Zak Salih. This is a dual-perspective novel following two gay men in present day America – one who longs for the sense of gay community back in the days of the Stonewall riots, and another who wishes he had an openly gay childhood like so many white people in America have today – as they reconnect after seeing each other for the first time since their childhood. I listened to the audiobook of this one and the narrators did a fantastic job, so I highly recommend picking it up that way if possible! Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez follows Jesse as he deals with his Jehova’s Witness upbringing, the legacy of his parents as part of the Windrush generation, the intersection of his sexuality and his race, and his work in the sex work industry. Finally, we have Love in the Big City by Park Sang-young. This novel is set in Seoul and follows Young who, after his best friend Jaehee leaves him to settle down, is left caring for his ailing mother and forming relationships with a series of men.

Bisexual Literary Fiction

Starting off this section is America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. This follows three generations of women from a Filipino family immigrating to the United States in the 1990s. This deals with PTSD, balancing religion with your sexuality, and the insular communities of Filipino immigrants in America during that time. You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat is one that I read last year but that I think is extremely important in the political climate that we currently live in. The book follows a Palestinian-American woman dealing with her latest breakup with her girlfriend, Anna, the fraught relationship with her mother, her ‘love-addiction’ and going to therapy. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan follows Ava after she moves from Dublin to Hong Kong to teach English to children, but so far it isn’t working out the way she’d hoped it would. She ends up moving in with a banker, Julian, who she has a brief relationship with until he moves back to England, when she meets the beautiful Edith who sweeps her off her feet. Everything is going swimmingly until Julian tells Ava that he’s moving back to Hong Kong. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi is a wonderful book that is so difficult to explain without sounding like I understood so little of it! It follows Gifty in the aftermath of her brother’s death after his battle with opiod addiction, and her father leaving and returning to Ghana, while burying herself in her scientific research and housing her mother who refuses to leave her bed. Finally, We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman follows Cass, once a highly praised young playwright who finds herself having to flee New York after a severe public shaming. Now in Los Angeles, she befriends her filmmaker neighbour and the gaggle of teenage girls who become the subject of her next work, based on the girls afterschool activities – a Fight Club.

Trans & Nonbinary Literary Fiction

Finally, we have literary fiction novels featuring trans and nonbinary main characters! First up is Small Beauty by Jia Qing Wilson-Yang. This is a super short novella which follows Mei who, while grieving the loss of her cousin, decides to move into his old house where she connects with his past, her aunt’s secret relationship and several trans women around her. Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn features a Jamaican nonbinary lesbian main character and follows Patsy as she finally moves to America from Jamaica as an undocumented immigrant, all the while her young daughter is left behind to deal with her own sexuality and trying to empathise with her mother’s decision to leave her behind. Of course when I mention books with trans main characters, I of course have to list the wonderful Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters! This follows the lives of three women, one a trans woman, one who has detransitioned, and a cis woman, whose lives end up colliding after an unexpected pregnancy forces them to come together and work out what’s best for them and this baby. The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya is another shorter read which follows Neela after her song is covered by internet famous singer, Rukmini. As Rukmini’s career ends up getting bigger and brighter, Neela’s star starts fading into the background and the friendship the pair formed starts to blow up. Finally, we have A Burning by Megha Majumdar which follows three main characters in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a train in India – Jivan, a Muslim girl from the slums who is accused of orchestrating the attack; PT Sir, a gym teacher who finds himself getting drawn into the ranks of a right-wing populist political party; and Lovely, a trans woman who dreams of being a famous actress.

So, those are some literary fiction recommendations to get you started – if anyone knows of any with asexual representation, please do let me know! Stay safe and see you tomorrow for another queer book review!

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