Casey Plett, 229 pgs, Topside Press, topsidepress.com, $19.95
In a powerful and absolutely unique debut, Casey Plett daringly and flirtatiously sketches wildly different episodes in the lives of 11 protagonists, all 20something transwomen. Plett’s stories dance from the illuminating banalities of contemporary life to the landmarks of a perpetually existential reality, negotiating romance and family along the way.
Some stories are short and dreamy, like the stoned memory of “A Carried Ocean Breeze” or “Youth”, a train-of-thought musing that concludes the collection. Others are punchy and vulnerably sarcastic, like “How to Stay Friends” and “Twenty Hot Tips to Shopping Success.”However, Plett’s contemplative, rhythmic stride takes shape most evocatively in her longer form stories, like the Williamsburg romance “Lizzy & Annie.” This simmering story begins with a morning-after moment and its attendant glow, particularly poignant given the context of the two women. A text the day after reads, “I know this is weird to say over text but it’s beautiful to be touched by another body like mine. Especially one as sexy as yours.”
But it’s not all sweet or easy— Plett is downright hilarious sometimes, and particularly sharp when it comes to calling out “radical” “queer” “lefty” “hipster” culture in all of its self-righteousness and narcissism. Lizzy and Annie are out for breakfast when they run into Weetzie (“cis girl, soft butch”), who comments on a hip queer party place, “I feel like for a queer space it’s not always a welcoming environment to trans women, you know?” Annie responds, “And that environment actually fucking exists where?” — perfectly summing up the hypocrisies and complexities of so-called allyship and queer politics.
In “Winning,” the protagonist moves home to help her (also trans) mother, battling back her fantasies of fleeing back to Brooklyn. Like in every story in the collection, transness courses through the daily experience of Plett’s characters, and yet the thematic palette and quarter-life questions may be uncomfortably familiar for many readers. These are poignant, precise stories that tap into the zeitgest with charming specificity. (Jonathan Valelly)