Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Pg. 69: Jenny Boylan's "I'm Looking Through You"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: I'm Looking Through You by Jennifer Finney Boylan.

About the book, from the publisher's website:
From the bestselling author of She’s Not There comes another buoyant, unforgettable memoir — I’m Looking Through You is about growing up in a haunted house ... and making peace with the ghosts that dwell in our hearts.

For Jennifer Boylan, creaking stairs, fleeting images in the mirror, and the remote whisper of human voices were everyday events in the Pennsylvania house in which she grew up in the 1970s. But these weren’t the only specters beneath the roof of the mansion known as the “Coffin House.” Jenny herself — born James — lived in a haunted body, and both her mysterious, diffident father and her wild, unpredictable sister would soon become ghosts to Jenny as well.

I’m Looking Through You is an engagingly candid investigation of what it means to be “haunted.” Looking back on the spirits who invaded her family home, Boylan launches a full investigation with the help of a group of earnest, if questionable, ghostbusters. Boylan also examines the ways we find connections between the people we once were and the people we become. With wit and eloquence, Boylan shows us how love, forgiveness, and humor help us find peace — with our ghosts, with our loved ones, and with the uncanny boundaries, real and imagined, between men and women.
Among the early praise for I'm Looking Through You:
"Jenny Boylan’s I’m Looking Through You ranks right up there with Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club and Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life as one of the finest literary memoirs of the last several decades. Like these, it’s a haunting revelation of the human heart, its terrible longings, its fears and joys, the secret recesses where we most truly dwell. How alike we all are, down this deep."
—Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Empire Falls

“Readers…are in for a treat. Boylan writes with a measured comedic timing and a light touch, affecting a pitch-perfect balance between sorrow, skepticism and humor. In spite of the singularity of Boylan’s circumstance, the coming-of-age story has far-reaching resonance: estrangement in one’s own home, alienation in one’s own skin and the curious ways that men and women come to know themselves and one another.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Growing up in a haunted house while inhabiting the wrong body.
Back then, Jennifer was James, living with his family in a dilapidated Victorian mansion on Philadelphia’s Main Line. While Boylan’s first memoir (She’s Not There, 2003) took place mostly in her head or dealt with the physiological process of transformation, here she turns outward to provide the backdrop for James’s desire to change gender. The house was lousy with ghosts: disembodied footsteps, a sentient blue fog, a woman with blond hair and white nightgown, reflected in a mirror. Also in residence were the author’s pleasing parents and a freewheeling sister; an array of fairly kooky relatives floated in and out. James had a secret. He, too, was haunted. A female spirit lived in his body: hopeful, wraithlike, translucent. Doubtless, this was vexing, but Boylan takes it as an occasion to provide much polished humor, some of it dark, most of it simply sparkling. Cross-dressing provides gloriously colorful moments. “Reading Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger in German while wearing Playtex products,” James had to hastily change clothes when he heard his sister heading toward his room. One time his father nearly caught him in the attic trying on his sister’s wedding dress: “Did he know, as he stood there atop his ladder, that his son was gathered in a baroque clump behind an army trunk in the corner?” As James wrestles with his conundrum, Boylan surrounds him with an appealing cast of friends and family. She draws a particularly striking portrait of her mischievous grandmother. Love abounds, the kind that must have helped James make his move despite the fact that he’d married and fathered children. Boylan’s vivid atmosphere and characterizations and use of dramatic irony and comic relief give this memoir a bright, shimmering force.
A lovely, heartening piece of work."
Read an excerpt from I'm Looking Through You and learn more about the author and her work at Jenny Boylan's website and her blog.

The Page 69 Test: I'm Looking Through You.

--Marshal Zeringue