Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Considering the fact that I have been anxiously awaiting this for about 4 months now, I am absolutely delighted to say Long Black Veil did not disappoint. In fact, this is precisely the kind of story I trusted Jennifer Finney Boylan to tell, full of hope and drama, but also deeply relevant to those of us approaching it from a transgender perspective.

Minor spoiler there, I guess, but if you have ever read anything by Jennifer Finney Boylan, or even have a cursory awareness of who she is, then the cover blurb is all too transparent (no pun intended). A woman whose family and identity are threatened by the secrets of her past, who is a very different person from the woman she is today? That can only mean one thing.

While most reviewers have approached this as a mystery/thriller, I would actually like to stick with that transgender angle. Long Black Veil is a story that explores the question of gender identity, complete with all of the secrets and prejudices that entails. As exemplified by the fact that her chapters are the only ones narrated in the first person, Judith is the heart of this story. It is her identity, her journey, and her circumstances that drive so much of it. She has a difficult choice to make, but either she risks losing the family and life that she has built, or a good friend ends up wrongly imprisoned for a murder he did not commit.

I loved the way the story moved between narrators and time periods, teasing out the core mystery of what happened and to whom. The historical scenes in Eastern State Penitentiary are incredibly creepy, like something out of a Stephen King novel, but that mystery is really just the foundation of the novel. It is the character study and the relationship stories that distinguish this, with a sad, often tragic look at how friendships dissolve and how identities crumble. The climax of the story does feel a bit rushed, and does rely a bit too heavily on a few coincidences, but they lend it an element of black humor that is very much needed going into those final dark moments.

To be honest, I was not sure how Long Black Veil would end, and I really worried about the fate of Judith's story, but Jennifer Finney Boylan does a stellar job of tying up loose ends.

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