Keith Maillard’s first novel, Two Strand River

What a fascinating book! It does not read like either a 35 year old book or a first novel, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay anything. It’s about crossgendered romance, but that doesn’t do it justice.

Leslie is a boyish children’s librarian of the female gender, who used to be an Olympic class swimmer but as she matured lost that edge of speed and is now not sure what she wants to do with the skill lacking the talent. Alan is a (male) hairdresser who is…effeminate isn’t quite the right description as that’s always struck me as being derogatory. Somewhere between transgendered and transvestite, perhaps; he’s really not sure himself. Throw an aging hippie mother figure, several grumpy Indian Curmudgeons, a lot of rain and several disintegrating relationships into the mix, and you get a lot of people trying to figure out what they want to do with themselves.

Both Alan and Leslie are feeling their way through a society that is binary–man/woman, gay/straight–and does not allow for “none of the above” people such as they. Throughout the book, these two circle closer and closer never quite meeting. In the end, they do find one another; the book ends with the somewhat enigmatic “The girl was a boy. The boy was a girl. Alan and Leslie saw each other.” In the end, it’s not clear which character was which gender, but does that really matter? They found each other, and if that’s not a happy ending I don’t know what is.

Overall, I’m not sure what else to add–the fact that the book’s set in Vancouver might be helpful to some readers. Certainly it’s interesting to me as I grew up not too far south of Vancouver, though on the U.S. side of the border, and so have a passing familiarity with the climate and the cousins to the First Nations tribes that Maillard describes. Magical realism? Voyage of discovery? Acceptance of oneself and transcending one’s own expectations and prejudices?


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