The Lauras (NetGalley)
Ma bustles twelve-year-old Alex out of bed in the middle of the night, grabs a backpack always waiting by the front door, and Alex doesn’t return “home” for nearly four years. And “home” is what Sara Taylor’s novel The Lauras is all about. Is “home” the birthplace our parents choose for us? Is it the resting place we long for–even though we haven’t yet arrived? Maybe our only true home is our body–and how we live comfortably or restlessly within its flesh. Taylor would have us believe that we’ll never truly feel at home on this earth until we answer some of those questions.
Alex knows the home her parents have kept together for her is anything but happy. But it’s all she’s known and she feels its pull even as the two of them crisscross the country. Her mother is on a journey to make sense of the people and places that shaped her: a foster home, a college friend, a lover. She exacts retribution in some cases. So they live on the savings Ma has bankrolled–sometimes home is a motel or a dingy efficiency. Sometimes it’s the backseat of the car or sleeping rough along a county road. Family meals are sometimes forgotten or come from a vending machine. Once or twice the two stop so Alex can attend school, and Ma can add to that bankroll. But she’s pushing, always pushing toward home.
Along the way Alex learns about Ma’s life through a series of stories about Lauras: the crazy one in the foster home, the one from Catholic school, the delinquent Laura, the Laura she fell in love with in college. And Alex learns that life is as much a series of missteps and heartache as it is success and delight. As a coming-of-age story, The Lauras works well.
But where the novel soars is in Taylor’s examination of how we human beings come to feel at home in our bodies. And Alex isn’t. Most reviewers I read label Alex transgender, which I think it inaccurate. Alex, at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, is simply Alex. The Alex not ready to commit to a gender, but becoming more and more comfortable with their body. You can see what I did there, using a gender-free pronoun–and I did it clumsily. Taylor wrote her novel using Alex as the narrator, never revealing her birth sex. And by doing so, Taylor humanized Alex’s experience in a way that simply identifying a character as ‘transgender’ never could. Alex is Every
Man Human. And because gender is a social construction, if I remember by Psych 101 correctly, how Alex chooses to relate to the world is self-determined.
I’ve reviewed a number of novels that play with the idea of gender–Middlesex, Neverhome, The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Lobdell, Misfortune–and I wrote about them here. They were all compelling reads and approached the idea of gender roles with caution. But none of the writers did a better job of emphasizing a transgender character’s humanity than Sara Taylor did in this very raw and tender story.
My trust in Publisher’s Weekly just tanked–throughout this short piece, the writer wrote about Alex using the pronoun “she” and even called Alex “daughter”. Sheesh! Did they not even read the dang book?! Publishers Weekly: any chance you’re looking for reviewers, I’m free …