Review

Trans-sister Radio

by Chris Bohjalian

TRANS-SISTER RADIO concerns a newly divorced
schoolteacher, Allison Banks, who falls in love with the man who
teaches a summer course on film in which she is registered. The
twist? Dana Stevens, the professor she loves, is not exactly what
he seems from the outside: this well-manicured, gentle-faced man is
in actuality a woman --- and he is facing an upcoming sex change.
Allison's daughter Carly and her ex-husband Will try to deal with
her new passion as best they can. With Will the president of
Vermont Public Radio, TRANS-SISTER RADIO ends up alternating
between the transcripts of a public radio conversation about the
dilemma and individual chapters narrated by each of the characters
in order to tell the long and involved and very contemporary
tale.

However, as in other books by Chris Bohjalian, I don't get the
feeling that he has completely nestled under the skin of each of
these characters. Allison seems to me to be the most fully
realized, but Carly and Will and Dana seem like cardboard cutouts
of real people. Although the story makes sense and the topic is
remarkably provocative, it feels like the emotional resonance of
the story drowns under the flipping around of the narratives. Too
many perspectives makes it hard in this case to really understand
what is going on. I would prefer, of all the characters, to see
this story from one perspective, perhaps the daughter's.

The erotic love that Dana and Allison share is understandable and
the extent of their dilemma in continuing to love each other is
understandable as well. But it feels more like a journalistic take
on a curious and utterly modern twist in a love affair. It was
difficult for me to get through this book as I kept yearning for
one character with whom I could truly relate. There wasn't one,
ultimately, so the narrative fell flat.

Bohjalian is a fine writer --- his words flow together nicely and
we're never lost in the plot. But there is a depth that is missing
here. Perhaps after having to research so deeply the information
needed to tell us Dana's story, there wasn't a lot of energy left
over to infuse it with the beating heart of real people and a real
love story. It was a fine read, but I felt like the issue deserved
a less even tone. A complicated and confusing case of sexual
redefinition, changing the lives of all four main characters,
should have left me crying and irrevocably moved. It didn't. A fine
beach read, but if you're looking for something more involved,
you'll feel unfulfilled.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 23, 2011

Trans-sister Radio
by Chris Bohjalian

  • Publication Date: August 14, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0375705171
  • ISBN-13: 9780375705175