Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Atheist and the Parrotfish by Richard Barager (#trans #atheist #fiction)

As intrigued as I was by the concept of The Atheist and the Parrotfish, it was a struggle to get through. The characters were largely unlikable, the spirituality was heavy handed, and the moral implications were rather uncomfortable. Richard Barager is an author who asks some interesting questions, and he demonstrates a remarkable sympathy for his crossdressing plot device, but it just was not enough for me.

Ennis Willoughby is a troubled crossdresser and the recipient of a dead woman's heart and kidney. He is convinced that a piece of her soul came along with those organs, and that his own feminine identity is fighting with her for dominance. His gender struggles are well documented and, aside from unfortunate terminology and unnecessary reassurances about sexuality, he is treated well by the story. I liked him, felt for him, and I wanted to see him succeed.

His doctors are equally troubled, plagued by infidelity, broken relationships, and self-doubt. That alone would make them unlikable, but what makes the story unlikable is the inference that their lack of spirituality is to blame for their lack of morality. Cullen Brodie is like one of those cartoon atheists you see in badly drawn religious tracts, a sexist, misogynistic man who cannot have a single thought without his hatred for religion coming into it. It starts out as awkward, gets uncomfortable, and becomes detestable by the end, when - surprise, surprise - he has a spiritual awakening and instantly becomes a decent person by finding God.

I wish I could be more positive about The Atheist and the Parrotfish, because Barager does have some really interesting things to say about his transgender character. I loved the suggestion that being transgender is a gift, and that straddling two genders is something special. For such a spiritual book, it really is gender-positive. Unfortunately, Ennis is only a third of the novel, and not enough to salvage its other flaws.

Richard Barager is a nephrologist, treating dialysis patients and kidney transplant recipients. By night, he writes fiction. He believes the two finest callings in life are doctor and writer, one ministering to the human condition, the other illuminating it, each capable of transforming it. He is a champion of the healing power of literature. Fiction explores meaning in a way science cannot. Sometimes only fiction tells the truth.


No comments:

Post a Comment