Book Chat: Two Strand River & Kitchen

Book Chat: Two Strand River & Kitchen

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By Elizabeth Parker

Most of the books I’ve reviewed for you in the past have come from the thriller and mystery ranks. This month I’d like to go to the mainstream fiction stacks and pull two books you might enjoy.

Two Strand River, by Keith Maillard, is a wonderfully sensitive book about the gender identity confusion experienced by two people living separate lives, a boyish woman librarian and a very girlish young man who is a beautician. This book explores the search of these two people for their place in life in separate strands of narrative.

Leslie, the woman, is an Audrey Hepburn lookalike, an elegant woman when she chooses to be, yet very boyish in her outlook on life. She thinks she may be lesbian, yet finds herself attracted to beautiful men more than women. She dresses as a medieval page at a Halloween party and causes quite a bit of havoc when the host and hostess find themselves independently attracted to her.

Alan, the beautician, is a gentle and delicate soul, whom everybody assumes is gay. In fact, his partners in the beauty shop, a lesbian and a gay man, try to convince him he is gay. But Alan has a dirty little secret; he is more attracted to women. The only men he has found attractive have been those like himself, delicate and beautiful boys.

Leslie’s search for identity takes her from the Halloween party to self-analysis in the Canadian woods. Alan’s search takes a more physical expression; as Ellen, his alter-ego. Though he has experimented with crossdressing in his room, and sleeps in a nightgown and with his hair in ribbons, he has never really been in the outside world as Ellen. But a wise, possibly crazy old lady encourages him and he becomes Ellen more and more. An interesting psychological twist has him mentally becoming a woman when he is dressed as a woman. This is crucial to his mental well-being as when he loses this state of mind, he loses his composure. We see Alan’s guilt expressed especially when, in his early adult years, he rejects the alluring offer of his current woman lover, who wants him to live with her as her housewife.

This book is an absolute must for those who want to explore the reasons behind our gender identity. The thrill factor is there, and FTM exploration is there as well, though more mental than physical. The only drawback from my point of view is the mysticism which Maillard uses to help Alan and Leslie come to terms with their identity. Instead of therapy these characters are helped by mystical experiences to come to grips with their wants and desires. But if you want good, literary writing, with gender identity the central theme, this is the book for you.

The next book is an award-winning novel from a Japanese writer, Banana Yoshimoto. Kitchen, is a sweet tale of a young college girl, Mikage Sakurai, who becomes an orphan when her grandmother dies. Her flower shop delivery boy, Yuichi, befriends her and then invites her to live with him and his mother when she needs to rent a less expensive apartment. She cautiously agrees to dinner with the single-parent family and discovers that Yuichi’s mother, Eriko, was his father. But after Yuichi’s mother died, Eriko decided to become a woman.

This was his mother? Dumbfounded, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Hair that rustled like silk to her shoulders; the deep sparkle of her long, narrow eyes; well-formed lips, a nose with a high, straight bridge–the whole of her gave off a marvelous light that seemed to vibrate with life force.”

Yes, Eriko is a beautiful woman. But more importantly she is beautiful from the inside. Yoshimoto writes a compelling tale of a transsexual who is a very self-fulfilled individual. Eriko manages a nightclub, raises Yuichi to be a fine young man, and manages to help Makage at the same time. Eriko is a major influence in Makage’s life.

You will perhaps enjoy this book more intellectually, rather than erotically. The writing is wonderful and compassionate, and Yoshimoto shows an affinity for the transgendered individual.


Maillard, Keith, Two Strand River, Harper Perennial, 1996, ISBN: 0-00-648143-4

Yoshimoto, Banana, Kitchen, Washington Square Press, 1988, ISBN: 0-671-88018-7

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Category: Transgender Fun & Entertainment


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