Thursday, March 24, 2011

REVIEW: Baby Doll by Mykola Dementiuk

What a lovely surprise there is to be found in the pages of Baby Doll! One of his earlier works, it still shares a lot of themes with Mykola’s later, edgier stories, but its focus on a teenage boy gives is a refreshing sense of innocence and vulnerability. That’s not to say it’s all sweetness and happy endings – that’s simply not his style – but it’s a very different approach to the material.

Although the taboo of the cross-generational relationship is once again at the core of the story, it’s not the primary focus. Instead, this is a story of a young man struggling with not just his sexuality, but with his very identity. There are some beautifully haunting passages when he begins examining his own uncertainty as to whether it is women themselves who appeal to him, or their clothing and the femininity it represents.  When he discovers the pink bra and panties left upon the park lawn, his sense of self-discovery is almost as intense as his excitement.

As his relationship with his older male lover progresses, he finds himself falling more and more into femininity, even as he continues to question what that means. The sex is important, but more as an opportunity to live the feminine role than as an expression of physical intimacy. Instead, it’s his need for feminine expression, for the clothing, and the mannerisms, and the acknowledgement/validation that consumes him. There’s a heartbreaking passage at one point where he wonders just who and what he is that I’m sure will resonate with anyone who has ever questioned the suitability of their birth gender:

“He wasn’t an adult. Neither was he a girl. Was he a boy, a male? He felt himself to be nothing.”

Mykola’s stories are not romances – they’re slices of life, a brief glimpse into both the delights and depressions of young men living difficult lives in imperfect times. As readers, we know there must be better choices out there, but he does such a magnificent job of drawing us into the character’s heads that it’s all too easy to get lost in their thoughts, and to lose track of those better choices.

Regardless of whether you approve of this young man’s final choice to sell his body to further his femininity, you cannot argue with the overwhelming satisfaction that being “like a real girl” provides him. Yes, there must be better ways to realise that feeling, better futures in which to explore it, but as much as we want to hope for more, it’s hard to fault him for grasping at the first opportunity to come along, no matter how unseemly it may be.

Baby Doll is available through Synergy Book Service, POB 8, Flemington NJ 08822 for $12 (includes postage). They also take credit cards by phone at 908.782.7101.

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