Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.
This will be the second L.A. Witt book I’ve reviewed. One of the first, if not the first NetGalley book I wrote about was Capture and Surrender, book five in her Market Garden series. Static is actually a Riptide re-release that Witt originally put out through Ambure Allure press in 2011. The pedigree of sci-fi and LGBT book awards it’s won definitely shows in the writing, although having read some of the authors more recent work, I can see her progressing in her craft. The emotional landscape that was so finely tuned in Capture and Surrender, is less easily done in Static, but you can see the hopeful beginning of what is now a clear and skillful voice.
The plot of this book is ambitious. In a universe where, in addition to cisgender and transgender, a minority of humanity can change their (physical but not mental) gender at will, average straight but not narrow dude finds out his girlfriend is a shifter, and trapped in male form. We follow our lovers as they struggle to overcome the hate crime that disabled the shifter, and examine what they mean to each other as an on-again off-again gender dysphoric gay man and a straight man in love. Trans, cis, straight, gay, and other characters add a lot of perspective, and while it can get preachy at times, it’s nothing any advocate of gender equality hasn’t heard before.
There are a lot of pieces that fall into place in ways that I associate with younger, less experienced writers. I wonder if Witt would make the same choices, even as little as three years after the fact. I understand how difficult it is to write on the edge of reality without tipping a work over into depression. Chances are, if a writer makes a character, they like them and want them to be happy. It can be too tempting to run around tying things in bows for them. I don’t mind this kind of plot device. In fact, the more I read, the more I’d rather see writers who do this for their characters, than the other extreme, which you can tell is made by grown-up versions of children who put salt on snails just to watch them bubble.
Through skill, but also through her at-the-time-of-writing relatively untrained emotional intelligence, Witt makes a piece of gender queer fiction that, at points, rivals some of the literary greats for sheer engagement. While literature tends towards the clinical when it comes to sex and sexuality, Static doesn’t have this problem. Unlike Market Garden, this book doesn’t purport towards erotica, but the natural human drive for sexual companionship isn’t overlooked like it can be among those writers who consider themselves highbrow.
I’d defer to actual trans and gender-queer readers on the finer points of the landscape in regard to portrayals of trans and gender-queer individuals, but as an outsider, I felt like a queer and minority experience was extremely well represented with dignity and realness. This is basically the ready-to-wear line from the house of queer studies, an easy-going love story for people who regard The Left Hand of Darkness as required reading.
I may not have been completely sold on L.A. Witt in my last review, but this book has definitely encouraged me to keep an eye out for her in the future.
8 out of 10 stars