Monday, July 15, 2013

Refuse - A Fictional Transgender Memoir of a 22 year old Morrissey Fan

Refuse by Elliott DeLine

Dean, a 22-year old female-to-male-transsexual, is no LGBT poster boy. Unemployed, depressed, mid-transition, friendless, and still living in the upstairs bedroom of his parents’ house in a conservative suburb, he can think of little to do but write his memoir. In the third person, he tells the tale of his would-be love affair with his college roommate, Colin, another trans man with a girlfriend and a successful indie rock band. The plot is interrupted intermittently by Dean’s first person commentary, often criticizing middle-class conformity—but the queer counter culture as well. He is obsessed with Morrissey of The Smiths and wants nothing in life other than the same level of fame. As his far-fetched dreams become a foreseeable reality, he must decide between honesty and belonging, conformity or isolation, community or self. 

 Published by the author, you can add your review of "Refuse" in comments!


ivanova said...

This looks awesome! Just ordered it. I really like the focus your website has had lately on self-published books, Lee. I would probably never have heard of this novel and it looks like it is right up my street.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Thanks Nora! The aim for the blog book lists is to be comprehensive, and include self-published books as well as those that are traditionally published. Please come back and leave a review once you've read "Refuse."

ivanova said...

OK, I'm back with my review, as requested. This is an excerpt from an even longer, sort of weird review I wrote on Goodreads.

I loved this one! This novel really spoke to my condition, so YMMV. As soon as I saw that Refuse was about a depressed young man who is transgender and obsessed with Morrissey, I knew that I had to read it. But terrific subject matter does not necessarily make a terrific self-published novel, so I was also very apprehensive about this book. Then I read the first few pages and I was enchanted. These opening pages were about how when the main character was a child, he had a speech impediment and couldn’t pronounce his own original name; the best he could come up with was “Yahweh.”

It’s a very interior kind of story, very up in the characters’ heads, but a lot happens in Refuse. I found it to be very nuanced and multi-layered, but at the same time accessible and straightforward. I got a definite feeling of the writer spitting in the eye of convention, but this is not some experimental gibberish that is hard work to read. It flows and has a simple narrative even while it defies certain expectations of what’s supposed to happen in a novel and especially in a bildungsroman. This would make more sense if I gave an example, I guess. Okay, Refuse tosses aside the rules about “show don’t tell,” and it works. In an early scene, the main character—shy and melancholy Dean—discovers someone knocking on his door, an outgoing guitarist named Colin Mahr who is also transgender like Dean. They talk and are kind of testing each other out, and when Dean asks Colin to name a band that inspires him, Colin gives the answer he thinks will impress Dean, and it works. So I read that and I thought, oh, this is just like how Morrissey and Johnny Marr met, how fun. I figured that was just kind of an “easter egg,” and obviously that similarity won’t be referred to because that would lack subtlety. But then the narrator, who is Dean but in the first person in the present, explains it to you about ten pages later. And somehow that makes it even better. It sort of reminds me of the narrators of Victorian novels, who explain and even moralize at you; it’s the same kind of direct but not simple approach. Dean also tells us early on, “Close-read all you want, you philistines. Do a close-reading of this sentence. How did that go? I hate you.”

What else did I like about this book? It’s witty, made me smile. I loved the main character Dean; he’s such a delicate petal. I liked how he was from the provincial North like Morrissey but in this case the North is Syracuse. Dean has very poor theory of mind in terms of empathizing with other people and seeing that it might make them feel bad if he says incredibly harsh things to them. His own pain mostly blinds him to the less-rarified feelings of others. But the writer is deeply aware of Dean’s flaws and presents Dean’s at-times controversial viewpoints tenderly so that I always felt sympathetic to Dean instead of annoyed. Did I say “deeply aware”? This story is nothing but stratum after stratum of self-awareness.

One big thing that this book was about was self-loathing/internalized transphobia. The easy out would have been if Dean had some big revelation and decided to accept himself and then he became happy, but essentially that never happened.

This is not a YA novel, but it is about a college student and I think teens would enjoy it.

In conclusion, this book pleases me more than anything I’ve been reading lately. I can’t stop thinking about Refuse. Oh yeah, did I mention that Refuse has a love story in it? The only other book that this reminds me of a little is (You) Set Me on Fire by Mariko Tamaki, which is a lesbian YA novel.

Trigger warnings for: suicide, transphobia, homophobia, general lack of cheerfulness. There's some sex-y stuff, but it's fairly clean ie NOT erotica. I'm pretty sure there's cursing.