Ian Donnell Arbuckle's "Fingerless" is a compelling novel featuring an engaging transgender protagonist. This dramatic story examines the frustration and confusion in her life and also offers an insightful and compassionate exploration of gender, relationships, family, and friendship.
The latest from Arbuckle (Stumble Down the Mountainside) is a novel of disfigurement and refigurement: the protagonist, Lita Hernandez, is transitioning from her former identity as Simon; her brother, Victor, lies in a hospital with permanent scars from a brutal attack; and their father, for reasons never given, has only three fingers on one hand. Much of the plot centers on the disappearance of Lita s daughter, Jilly, which occurs during an ice storm. Lita, a transgender lesbian living in a small town, has sacrificed a great deal, including her chance at renewing her romance with her former girlfriend, Shasta, and her relationship with her daughter in order to be honest about who she is. In her world, bodies are deaf and unforgiving, and hoped-for metamorphoses hard to come by: My flesh spoke in hormones, she says. How frustrating that the hormones seemed able to conjure words, but the reverse was impossible. The book includes strong writing throughout, but what it excludes is puzzling. With femininity portrayed as a series of difficult-to-learn conventions, there s not much about the positive pull of womanhood. Perhaps that s the point: Lita s gender is a fact, not a desire. Though novel begins with plenty of promising conflicts, the second half of the story slows, leaving off with final chapters that offer the facts of closure, but not its feeling. Still, a worthy overall effort.