By Jennifer Finney Boylan
New York: Celadon Books, 2020. 249pp.
A Review by D. Margaret Hoffman
I attended a virtual talk given by Dr. Boylan at a Mark Twain House Writers’ Weekend. I ordered her book as a result, expecting to like it. I never expected to love it—which, as it turns out, I do.
Jennifer Finney Boylan and I could not be more different. She has a PhD and writes for the New York Times and I do not. She is transgender and I am not. She is brave and I most definitely am not. But the most notable difference between us is much bigger than all of these. You see, she is a dog person. Me. Oh, no. No dogs. Not me.
Despite all of these differences, this book spoke to me in ways that I could not have imagined. Good writers finding and expressing truth have a way of using these life differences as a jumping-off point—but then getting past them and down to the place where we find that, while our experiences might be different, our feelings about things might be very much the same.
Boylan is a fine writer. This memoir plays with time but does it smoothly, methodically, logically. (Stanley Tucci tries it too in Taste: My Life Through Food, but it’s a rockier go.) The honesty of the prose is an invitation for sure. But it is its deceiving simplicity that keeps you reading and thinking, “Oh this is a piece of cake,” only to discover a depth of thought or a loveliness of sound or twist of syntax that stops you in your tracks and forces you to go back, reread, savor. You know, like you do with poetry. That happened a lot.
The other thing that happened a lot was finding myself on the pages. In between the lines of a brave, transgender dog-lover, lives the story of an unsure academic, a writer searching for a story, a lost soul seeking a center, a young person trying to make the puzzle pieces fit. That I get. And as Boylan comes to terms with all the things that conspire to make a life, she expresses these feelings in a way that will speak to all of us. Well, those of us who are human, anyway.
I will read this book again. I know I say that about a lot of books, but I’ve already downloaded the audio version in preparation for experiencing this text in a new way.
Lucky are the readers who find this book. Even timid, cis, cat people who never earned a PhD—like me.