Mini Review: Little Fish by Casey Plett

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

In Winnipeg, Canada, Wendy receives the news that her grandmother has died. When she goes to the funeral, there is some nervousness around her family because Wendy is trans. They remember her being raised as a little boy, and now she’s a thirty-year-old woman. During the family gathering after the funeral, the phone rings and Wendy answers. A woman named Anna claims she has some interesting information about Wendy’s grandfather, hinting they he may have been a woman but couldn’t transition in his Mennonite farming community. Because Anna is not terribly forthcoming and a bit suspicious of who Wendy is — Anna doesn’t remember any Wendys in the family — it takes several weeks before the two meet up.

While Little Fish by Casey Plett sounds plot-driven, it’s actually a character-driven novel that follows Wendy as she goes to work in a gift shop, makes the decision to start accepting sex work again, and goes out with her friends, who are other transwomen. I wasn’t aware Little Fish would be character-driven, which is not the kind of novel I typically enjoy. However, because Wendy’s life is unlike mine, I was able to understand more of what it would be like to be her. Although her father accepts her and is deemed “cool” by Wendy’s friends, after a few drinks he makes jokes about his son growing up to be a girl, or calls Wendy things akin to “one of the guys.” If she’s walking down the street, strange men ask her if she’s “a dude,” which contrasts the clients she meets while “hooking,” who admit they like transwomen’s bodies. Even then, the clients still talk about what’s “wrong” with Wendy’s body, such as being a post-operative transwoman. It would be “so much better” if she’d kept her penis so they could enjoy it.

This leads me to a comment about the content: Little Fish has many sexually explicit scenes, all of which involve drunken hook ups or prostitution. As a result, Wendy experiences a variety of microaggressions, major harassment, and situations that threaten her safety. Knowing that transwomen are a target, Wendy and her friends always tell each other where they are going to be and for how long when they meet a client. When one friend doesn’t make contact afterward like she should, Wendy’s friends point out that Wendy should talk to the hotel clerk because she’s white, emphasizing that there are intersections in minority groups that can further endanger a person.

Even though travelling in Wendy’s life was interesting and educational, I’m never happy with how a character-driven novel ends. I find they frequently have an entire chapter with big life questions during which the character ponders where they are headed, and I never find that satisfactory, especially when there are no solutions in sight. However, what Casey Plett’s novel did do for me is lead me to her short story collections. I’m thrilled to read character-driven stories and look forward to doing so.

So, should you read the text or listen to the audio? A. Almeida does an excellent job of reading, taking care to keep her voice about the same level — no jumps or drops in volume. And either she’s Canadian, or she really practiced how to say “sorry” with that telltale inflection my northern neighbors have. Almeida adds in pauses that make you feel like you’re in Wendy’s head, thinking through options. I’m not sure if Plett uses a lot of ellipses, but Almeida captures the whole feel of Wendy.

16 comments

  1. It sounds like the audio narrator really does this book justice. It’s a tough topic but it always helps to walk in someone else’s shoes and character-driven stories allows for that experience. Wonderful review ❤️

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    • I feel terrible saying I didn’t really love this novel because it is character-driven and so long, but I truly am eager to read her short stories. I attended a digital book reading with her and two other authors just recently, and Plett was this amazing, thoughtful person.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review. When are some men going to stop telling people how their body “should” be? Especially if you’re enjoying them sexually. Seems to me like the aggressive response to this for people to learn their lesson, is to start judging their bodies in return. Men love that. They can dish it all day but tell a guy his penis is too small and they can’t handle it. This sounds so anti-men but it’s really anti-creep.

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    • I want to say everyone judges bodies, and women do it so casually that it seems normal, but to be honest, in Little Fish it really was only men judging Wendy’s body, approaching her and saying things to her face. Women are more likely to sit on a bench together and judge together. I recall that scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie) when we get to the prom and all of Buffy’s old friends are just clustered together saying crap about everyone else’s dress, hair, etc.

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      • I would say I guess it’s who you surround yourself with and if you actively participate yourself. I for one, do not judge people’s bodies and my few friends I hang around with, do not spend our time judging others. In fact, we try to be more positive towards people. You never know when a, “Girl, that jacket looks amazing on you” can lift someone out of a hole. In the same frame, that’s still judging something I guess but in a positive way.
        My experience is that men are much more negatively verbal about it than anyone else. I’ve had conversations with my own dad about his antiquated view points of women. He may be older but that doesn’t mean he can’t grow. Whether he likes what his daughter is saying to him or not.

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  3. I struggle with a lot of sexual content in books, especially when it involves or is close to involving violence so I’m not sure I’ll ever read this one. It did get a lot of good attention when it came out in Canada though. Maybe I’ll try some of Plett’s short stories instead.

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    • Same — Plett has an older collection and a one that just came out, which is why she was doing the reading I attended. While sexual content can make me uncomfortable, Plett’s book, I think, used the sexual content to really show the life of a transwoman, a life for which the body and how it can be pleasurable to others is always up for questioning and discussion, with or without the transwoman’s consent.

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  4. Raises hand. Slowly growing dad here! Very slowly sometimes. My daughter, who’s 40 today, was very firm in her last years at school that we, her mother and I, were not allowed to comment on her body shape.

    I prefer character driven novels, but I can’t recall ever reading one with a trans protagonist. I can’t recall ever meeting a trans person. I lead a sheltered life.

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    • Wow, I’m so proud of your daughter for creating a boundary about her body! That was all pre-body positivity and body autonomy (things like asking for a hug before doing it).

      As I listened to this book, Bill, I was thinking of you and our recent conversation about how you like character-driven novels. There might even be a small element of grunge to this book. I wonder if you have it for free through your Libby app as well.

      I’ve met a few trans people. The city I live in now is quite liberal despite being set in a highly conservative state. I met many trans kids when I worked at the theater, and through the University of Notre Dame’s artistic departments, especially creative writing, I’ve been trans and gender non-binary folks. Nowadays, it’s so common to add your pronouns in your email or added to your Zoom name for meetings. Even at the Christian college I’m attending people will use plural pronouns. Granted, gender non-binary and trans are not the same.

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  5. Although the sexually explicit content, especially in combination with violence, probably means this isn’t for me, I like character-driven novels and I’ll be interested to see what you make of Plett’s short stories if you review them here.

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    • The sex scenes are either explosive one night stands or what happens when Wendy meets a client who has hired her for sex work. The violence is more in what people say; Wendy and her friends feel threatened, though I can’t recall any scenes of actual violence. They are constantly weighing the danger of each situation, for example.

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  6. So I know I talked about how big Casey is in Canlit (which she is) but I’m really quite ashamed I haven’t read any of her work yet, so I sort of feel like I’m relying on you to do the home work for me, so thank you! I never realized this would be sexually explicit but I’m not surprised either.

    I didn’t realize you didn’t like character-driven novels?

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    • Yeah, I hate that I can’t feel where the plot is going or when it will end. It makes me unable to respond properly with my emotions. Not sure if that makes sense. Like….when to invest certain emotions where? Something like that. I’m going to check out Plett’s short stories, though. Those should be great. To me, character-driven novels feel like a bunch of short stories that got stuck together that don’t really add up.

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