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I'm a grad student, an avid reader, a huge nerd, fervent roleplayer, wife, cat lover, tea snob, and obsessive keeper of lists.
Breakfast with Scot - Michael Downing

If this book were a painting, there would be large greyed-out spaces on the canvas, filled with the absence of something. And I don't mean this in an admiring sense of artistic integrity. I mean it as a comment on someone who just can't be arsed to finish the damn work. Because of this, and what really did feel like quite a lot of transphobia, this isn't a book I would rush to recommend to anyone. And these two things compounded each other, making it neither a perceptive look into parenting a difficult child, or a commentary on, well, just about anything. Instead, it's a story about a bunch of people who really come off as jerks.

At the heart of the book are a gay couple who end up being left a child in someone's will. Not someone who is related to either of them, someone who used to date a brother of one of them. This seems like a slipshod way to make sure your child is taken care of, but the dead mother seems to have been that sort of person, so I'll give it a pass.

Where it doesn't get a pass are the ways the story lurches like a car slipping gears. Without chapter breaks, without even line breaks, suddenly we'll be, oh, weeks later. Wait, Scot arrived? What was that like? I don't get to know? Oh-kay. And now we're when? What's gone on in the meantime?

Dude, I'm glad you know your story. Throw those of us who don't a bone, okay? People have been talking a lot about this recently as an offshoot of a particularly branch of literary fiction. This is my first time running into it, and I'm going to give the technique the benefit of the doubt and believe that it can be done better than it is here. But I don't like it, so far.

It's supposed to center around the idea of showing, not telling. Which is great on TV. It's even good in your books to, rather than just saying "he was kind to those around him," showing me how he is kind. I'm not as convinced that it works by not telling us what your first-person narrator is thinking, giving us only his impressions instead. I don't know about you guys, but from inside this particular head that is mine, I both receive sensory impressions AND have thoughts. Sometimes at the same time. Weird, huh?

Taking thoughts out, almost entirely, from your first person narrator, gives them a curiously disembodied feeling, and does nothing at all to help me connect to them.

So I have a main character who, if I can tell from his sensory impressions and actions, is really kind of a jerk. Maybe knowing why he does what he does might help me feel more sympathetic, but maybe not. We do sometimes get his thoughts when he tells them to other characters, but if you're giving us the intimate position of riding around  in his head while he carries the book, why use that as a reason to create distance instead of intimacy? Why go first-person?

This is even more difficult to stomach when it slips into a distaste and fear of Scot when it comes to Scot's tendencies to cross-dress and enjoy "girls'" things, particularly when it comes to apparel. I know that transphobia can slip between sexual orientations, but I was depressed that everyone in this book seemed to have the same kneejerk reaction to Scot. Mostly, for those outside the family unit, it was "keep that kid away from my kids." And then for the two new parents to have pretty much the same reaction, to spend so much time to "fix" Scot rather than understand him, made me uneasy  It was difficult to read. They're not mean about it, but quite insistent that he find ways to sublimate or hide who he is...really?

Maybe they're more understanding in the parts of the book the author chose not to write, I don't know. They seem to be doing it from a caring place, but that doesn't make it less awful. In a book about gay men becoming parents, it's difficult to run into so little acceptance. And it's not like anyone grows or learns. Scot learns how to hide it better and only let it out at times, which seems like a terrible fucking message. The new parents learn they really do love him, they just wish he'd hide his strangeness better.

I learned I don't like this book, and I don't like this literary fiction technique.