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.