By Renee James. $26.95; Oceanview Publishing; 310 pages
The world of fiction is filled with voices. It's a realm of stories and each one is told in a different way through a new set of eyes. Renee James's second book, Seven Suspects, re-ntroduces us to a new voicethat of a transgender woman named Bobbi Logan.
James is likely not the first trans woman to write in the voice of the same, but she is to my knowledge one of the best trans woman writers currently honing her craft. Without giving too much away, Seven Suspects features Logan, who is a trans woman stylist and salon owner in Chicago's Gold Coast. Her rather abrupt personal style is immediately apparent, as is her knack for offending all with whom she interacts. Eventually she realizes she is being stalked and has flashbacks to another incident of stalking and rape. She has her suspects. Logan must work against time to find out who is stalking herand whyn order to protect her niece and family from a deranged lunatic.
Almost immediately, James' unique voice shines through. The protagonist sees a cis woman in her shop and remarks at her natural beauty: "I sigh. What must it be like to be so perfectly female?" Immediately, we know who Logan is and what her greatest lament in life is. The readers are also brought into the inner sanctum of the author's own desires and thoughts. Although James is clear that Bobbi Logan is not exactly based on her life, there is a modicum of truth that permeates the narrator's voice.
There are also numerous allusions to the transperson's problem of permitting their own personality to interact with others. Dressing and finding one's own self through an environment that is both hostile and curious is something many cisgender folks simply do not have to encounter in the same way. Logan remarks about the very first outfit she wore when she came out as a woman: a mini-dress and fishnets. "That was my adolescent period, and I never wore the outfit again, but I keep it as a reminder not to judge too harshly my transgender sisters who are coming out now, for the first time, and have to pas through that stage too." In no other work of fiction can readers hear the real voice of a trans woman who still struggles with her identity and who is deeply aware of that struggle in every other transgender person alive.
The fictional Logan, like any transgender individual, faces hardships that their cis counterparts can perhaps sympathize with but may not fully understand. Logan speaks to her niece and to all of us who were bullied in junior high when she says, "You have to decide for yourself who you love and who you're loyal to, even if the cool kids give you a hard time about it." Logan later must confront one of her own bullies. One cannot read the exchange without the certainty that this has happened to James herself: "If I had a quarter for every time someone has called me exactly that, exactly a dickless fucking queer, I could by an island in the Caribbean, not that I want one. It doesn't bother me at all." We are reminded that anger and hatred can make even the most beautiful person hideous.
It isn't just the bullying or the recognition that she is trans that makes Seven Suspects a truly enjoyable read. The book is funny, frightening, mysterious and familiar all at the same time. There is a voice and a perspective that seeps into every corner of the book. You cannot quite explain it but would need to read the book for yourself to understand why Logan is in her own right a fascinating woman. She is vulnerable, strong, soft, icy, warm, loyal, curious and vivacious. Logan is a woman and her story is one worth reading.