After the last
pages of a heart-pounding thriller, when the room swims
back in focus, sometimes a tiny doubt begins to surface.
What happened to the microphone in the
men's room? you wonder, or How can a
bouffant stop a bullet? Although Felicia Luna
Lemus's engaging second novel, Like Son,
isn't a mystery or thriller, it has a major unresolved
plot element--a secret the reader is eager to
learn, but which never gets explained. Surprisingly, this
doesn't sink the boat. It says a lot about the
skillful forward pull of Lemus's narrative, and
the attractions of her main character, that we barely
notice what we're missing.
Like Son recounts a seven-year obsession,
an intoxication passed down through generations like a
facial mole or a tendency to faint at parties. In Los
Angeles in 1995, on his 23rd birthday, Frank Cruz
opens a present from his father--a reproduction of an
Edward Weston portrait of Nahui Olin, a charismatic,
scandalous (real-life) figure in 1920s Mexican art
circles, and a volume of her poetry, inscribed to
Frank's grandmother. "My Love," Nahui
begins, then quotes one of her own poems, "
'She went through me like a pavement saw,'
Yours as ever for the revolution, Nahui."
The phone call
from his father was the first awakening. Francisco Cruz
had been pushed out of Frank's life 15 years earlier
by Frank's upwardly mobile mother, a Los
Angeles plastic surgeon, who would also distance
herself from Frank as he grew from a presentable little girl
to a post-punk skater boy with bound breasts under his
T-shirt and hoodie. "The doctors tell me
I'm dying," Francisco says, having finally
obtained Frank's phone number.
"Let's go for a nice lunch."
Like Son is a post-trans novel--possibly the
first to be published. Frank's transsexuality is not
the subject. When his mother shoves $5,000 at him to
get him to leave her front doorstep, he uses the money
not for top surgery but to escape to New York to find
new love and unfold the significance Nahui Olin held for his
long-dead grandmother. There's no
gender-related angst in the book, and no attempt to
conceal Frank's birth gender. The occasional
difficulties or awkwardness--the moments when
Frank doesn't pass, for instance, like at the
hospital after a train accident--aren't glossed over,
but they don't form or influence Frank's
self-image or affect the ongoing action of the novel.
Frank tells his
girlfriend Nathalie that he chose his name in honor of
his father and "for its function as a verb."
When she challenges him, he sends her to the
dictionary: "Webster's, definition 11: to
enable to pass or go freely." Then he offers a
kind of credo: "To live without the curses and
consequences that crippled my family before me, to break
free of a life I preferred were not mine, to pass
without constraint through the world...as a man,
a good and decent man--to this I aspired."
Although not as
fiery as Nahui Olin, Nathalie gives Frank plenty to worry
about. After seven years of bliss, she disappears from their
little apartment off Tompkins Square Park, leaving
only a note that she'll be back. This crisis forces
Frank to reconsider his devotion to the family
legends. It takes another odyssey, this time back to Los
Angeles, to confirm a new direction--out and
away from the past.
To add to an
already layered story, Felicia Luna Lemus's partner
is the novelist T. Cooper, who wrote last
year's Lipschitz Six, or Two Angry
Blondes, which also featured a trans man, although his
gender was central to the novel. Between them, they're
revolutionizing fiction about trans issues. Get in on
Be sure to follow Advocate on your favorite social platform
DON'T MISS THE OUT100 SPECIAL 3 DAY MARATHON STARTING NOVEMBER 24TH!
Journey through the year’s influential Out100 – the most iconic and long-standing celebration of LGBTQ+ icons and allies – in a 1-hour television special spotlighting the LGBTQ+ people shaping the world today.