Author: E.E. Ottoman
Publisher: Brain Mill Press
Cover Artist: Photo: Nathan Pearce; Design: Ranita Haanen
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 08/31/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Trans*
If you look for yourself in the past and see nothing, how do you know who you are? How do you know that you’re supposed to be here?
When Wyatt brings an unidentified photograph to the local historical society, he hopes staff historian Grayson will tell him more about the people in the picture. The subjects in the mysterious photograph sit side by side, their hands close but not touching. One is dark, the other fair. Both wear men’s suits.
Were they friends? Lovers? Business partners? Curiosity drives Grayson and Wyatt to dig deep for information, and the more they learn, the more they begin to wonder — about the photograph, and about themselves.
Grayson has lost his way. He misses the family and friends who anchored him before his transition and the confidence that drove him as a high-achieving graduate student. Wyatt lives in a similar limbo, caring for an ill mother, worrying about money, unsure how and when he might be able to express his nonbinary gender publicly. The growing attraction between Wyatt and Grayson is terrifying — and incredibly exciting.
As Grayson and Wyatt discover the power of love to provide them with safety and comfort in the present, they find new ways to write the unwritten history of their own lives and the lives of people like them. With sympathy and cutting insight, Ottoman offers a tour de force exploration of contemporary trans identity.
Everyone should be reading this book. Right now. Skip this effing review because you should be reading and experiencing and forever carrying this book with you. Yep, everyone.
Now, if you insist on reading this review, I thank you, but in return I insist you read this story.
Wyatt is kind, caring, and in tune with their siblings and their mom. They work downtown for a judge on sensitive cases. The family has had struggles, including right now with their mother living with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. Wyatt is hard on themselves, overly so sometimes, though I understand where it comes from. The pain runs deep, yet hope for the future and its possibilities are irrepressibly bright.
Grayson is quiet but deliberate, and he’s confident in his work as a curator at the local historical society in Binghamton. He’s a researcher through and through, the love of it coursing through his soul. His family situation is much different than Wyatt’s. The pain of past experiences, the anguish, doubt, and the hope are the same. Will they be able to force off the masks they each wear and realize this, take refuge in it, celebrate and live it? That’s the story we have here.
Sometimes when you did historical research, you hit a dead end and that was that – nothing more to find. Still, it was going to hurt to tell Wyatt. He’d been so excited to identify the people in this photograph.
This is the spark that leads to the meeting of our two main characters, wanting to discover who are the two men in a nearly century old picture, what was their story. The above passage reflects two things: Ottoman is deep inside the heads of both Grayson and Wyatt, giving us crystal clear insight to their feelings and how they see themselves fitting, or not, into this world; but on the flip side, we’re told more than we’re shown about the connection that begins to build between them throughout this story. I sometimes felt more of a connection to the story itself than either of Grayson or Wyatt. However, Ottoman brings their emotions to the surface at full speed, even in the quiet moments, and they run the gamut. Yup, we have complex human people here. I feel the sadness, disappointment, self-criticism, and the hope, desire, and drive to demand of life what each of them wants.
I think some of this disconnect comes by way of too-simple sentence structure. It doesn’t happen often but, when it does, it works to cut down the all too real emotional build taking place between Wyatt and Grayson, and between Wyatt and their family to a lesser but just as important extent. However, through most of this story, I’m right there with them, feeling, understanding, pulling for them, fighting the anger and isolation, and wanting a world where their masks are unnecessary. This is a personal story.
Throughout most of this, Ottoman’s prose is beautiful, spot on, and works in harmony with the story. Imagery is important in conveying, not just physical place and how the characters fit inside it but, the emotional state of mind of a character. It’s valuable, and I can never get enough:
Hands shoved in his pockets, he looked over the river.It was high now, fat with the melted snow, although not as high as it would be in spring.
(I do not miss upstate NY wintertime. 😉 )
I love Ottoman’s use and examination of history and how it’s subjective, not objective as it’s often approached and presented, and can’t help but be recorded and studied through the personal prism of each of us. The deep need for connection to both the present and that past that many of us feel is made relatable and important, poignant and revealing through that single photograph, to begin, and more as Wyatt and Grayson deal with their own. The connection between Grayson and Wyatt wavered here and there for me, but the connection I felt with each of them is a forever thing for me.
”All I want…” Their voice was soft. “… is the possibility that there is a space for people like me to exist in history too. To have a past. To look back with pride and say people like me lived and loved and endured. That’s all I want.”
If, as a society, we didn’t impose a system of such binary-centric gender identity and strictly defined sexuality, if we chucked all that out the window, the pressure felt by many (most of us?) to fit in, hide, ignore, live in fear, would disappear. This would be good for everyone. We’re all worthy. Until that happens, the struggle continues and we have to keep working towards inclusion and making it real in everyday life.
I recommend this book to everyone: this is the kind of fiction everyone can read, wade through the emotions, and gain a better understanding of ourselves and our fellow human beings, one of the reasons we’re all here.
To witness something was to give it a life of its own outside of yourself. Wyatt felt that was the most fitting for speaking of the past.
And a damn good way to improve the present and promise the future.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
One random commenter with thoughtful, relevant comments will win a $25 gift certificate each month in 2016.
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