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Bent by Teri Louise Kelly
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What a strange, twisted, unorthodox tale Teri Louise Kelly has woven here. Abandoning the standard conventions of the genre, she has put together a memoir that initially comes across as nothing more than stream-of-consciousness rambling, but which slowly begins to reveal the threads of a life remembered.

There’s no doubt that style makes for an intensely personal experience, and the reader’s confusion and uncertainly are part of that experience. It’s as if we’re meant to be just as unsure of our place within the narrative as Kelly was unsure of her place in the world around her. She jumps from memory to memory, framing each with the wisdom of experience earned long after the original scene was lived.

Approaching this as a story of gender identity and expression is to do it a severe injustice, and to neglect everything else about her life. If there’s one thing we immediately take from her story it’s that gender is not who we are, but simply a part of our lives. There’s no doubt it describes us, but it doesn’t solely define us. A lot of her life revolves around understanding her gender, and of coming to terms with its expression, but there’s no illusion that her entire life has been spent in pursuit of some gender ideal.

Ironically, some of the most insightful observations in the story come not from Kelly, but from her invisible, imaginary friend, Alice. Initially, it’s unclear just who or what Alice is, whether she’s a real person, an imaginary friend, a ghost, or a representation of some sort of schizophrenic break. Eventually, however, it becomes clear that Alice is both a coping mechanism and a reflection of who Kelly is inside.

“Love cannot kill Alice any more than hate can. The girl has a voracious capacity for passion; and then it dawned on me—the only way to kill Alice was to become her, to grow into her; because then, and only then, could one be consumed by the other—be free—whole.”

There is a lot of darkness to Kelly’s tale, including drugs, alcohol, dysfunctional relationships, thoughts of suicide, and even a stay in an asylum. It’s almost as wearing as the confused rambling of the narrative itself but, once again, it helps to bring the reader into her world and force a sort of emotional connection.

Interspersed throughout the tale (and extraordinarily jarring in the way they jump out of the text) are various quotes from celebrities, famous thinkers, and medical journals. They’re never commented upon, but left to stand as a placeholder in time, something to help illustrate her place in the world and her own understanding.

"Let’s forget the flounce and frills and sugar and spice; this isn’t Cinderella and there aren’t any glass slippers or pumpkins that change into carriages.”

As cover blubs go, few are as honest or as compelling as that of Bent. This is not a fairy tale, not a happily-ever-after tale of transformation, and not an inspirational guide on how to accept your own gender. Instead, it’s the insightful (and often painful) tale of one woman’s journey from discovery to understanding, intimately woven into the story of a life influenced, but not defined, by that journey. It’s not an easy reason, but it’s not an easy journey.


Originally reviewed for Frock Magazine ( )
  bibrarybookslut | Jul 5, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received a copy of this book through the LT early reviewers program.

At first, this book seemed really fascinating, the language is a glittery swirl of cleverly mixed metaphors and slightly changed idioms and I found myself easily sympathetic over the confusion about society's gender-based rules and the author's refusal to fit into them. However, as the chapters rushed on at breakneck speed, it started to feel like the story was deflection more than reflection: events are hinted at but never fully explained: there's no way of understanding how the author ended up in the new situation described or what happened next. New chapter, new country, new relationship, new job. What ever happened to the previous one?
Even the chapter names are misleading: at first it looks like most of them are named after a person in the author's life, but quite often they end up being about someone else entirely, and mostly it's all about the author anyway. It becomes more and more difficult to feel empathy for the author as it seems she feels none for the people in her life. Conflicting at parts, repetitive in others and with all the drugs and alcohol consumed, I felt like I couldn't really trust anything I read. The final chapter (which in my copy at least has been printed twice) seems like the only part written with an audience in mind. ( )
  nerwende | Aug 11, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm not normally one for memoirs or any kind of non-fiction in general, but as a trans person myself, this book caught my eye on the Early Reviewers list. I have to say, stream of consciousness is an acquired taste (or you have to be the right kind of mind), and the more I read, the more I got into it. Perhaps I've grown since I tried to read James Joyce in college. Either way, I love the descriptions of her adventures, and her journey through gender, and the conclusions she comes to at the end. I actually was reminded of a friend as I read. Could have used a (more?) thorough copyedit, but the mistakes were relatively easy to overlook. ( )
  meiloslyther | May 3, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I don't quite know what I expected when I requested this book, but what I read when I started wasn't it. This memoir is like a waterfall: it sucks you in and carries you along in a rambling stream of conciousness. I know I'm only getting maybe a third of the pop-culture references (being of the wrong (younger) generation), so many of the layers of meaning are just washing over me unnoticed.

Strangely fascinating, but disjointed and non-linear. I'm finding it difficult to track the progression of the journey, which makes me wonder if there is one, or if it's just a series of moments strung together like rocks along the shore.

Still reading. ( )
  ShayD | Feb 13, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is very stream-of-consciousness, with little to no transitions, bouncing back and forth between various periods in the author's life. Normally, I have no problem with this sort of story-telling, but in this case the writing style was so clunky that it was hard to follow. Most of it is in present tense except for a chapter or two that are in past tense for no particular reason. There was also a chapter inexplicably in second person narrative. Aside from the poor writing, I had a very hard time getting interested in the story at all. Kelly comes off as a complete asshole most of the time, treating everyone around her like shit. I could never be certain if the other people in the book are so one-dimensional as a result or poor writing or because she doesn't really see others as actual human beings. I felt justified in this confusion when I read the except from her therapist’s notes that describe her as "borderline sociopath." Honestly, I couldn't even finish. I only made it about 3/4 of the way through. ( )
  Jessiqa | Jan 24, 2016 |
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