Short Reviews

Published in: July-August 2017 issue.


On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories
Photographs by Mark Seliger
Rizzoli. 160 pages, $55.


Portrait photographer and Greenwich Village resident Mark Seliger was witnessing a gradual decline in the storied life of Christopher Street in recent years, and he decided that it needed to be documented before gentrification wiped it out entirely. Over the course of three summers, he photographed seventy transgender women and men, representing a range of ages, races, and gender expression. On Christopher Street is his black-and-white, warts-and-all celebration of their lives.

There are a few fashions in common among those who are documented: long hair and long nails for most of the transwomen; leather jackets and much body and facial hair for most of the transmen; tattoos for the younger generation. All are identified by their name of choice. Some have contributed brief biographies, though one might wish for more. Among them are just a few whose names may be familiar, such as Hari Nef, who’s an actress and model with major international agencies; model Octavia McKinney; and Egyptt Labeija, a political activist at the TransJustice/Audre Lorde Project in New York. Lester Cook said that he’d struggled for 21 years with being in the wrong body: “When I had top surgery, I woke up and I was the happiest man alive.” Seeing other transwomen on Christopher Street, remarked Jamila Pratt, was “very inspiring,” though she doesn’t gloss over the amount of prostitution, homelessness, and drugs in the area, pointing out that street drugs and hormones don’t mix and can be deadly if combined. Transwoman Janet Mock, who wrote the foreword, is a well-known writer and media personality. She extols Christopher Street as a “beacon for those who are questioning, seeking, and exploring,” lamenting that “there is now a 1 a.m. curfew at the piers.”

Martha E. Stone


The Lotterys Plus One
by Emma Donoghue
Illustrated by Caroline Hadilaksono
Arthur A. Levine Books. 320 pages, $17.99


When a pair of hipster gay men—one from India, one from Northern Canada—and a pair of tree-hugging lesbians—a Native American woman and a Jamaican woman—find a winning ticket for the Canadian lottery while one of them is in labor, they decide as a group to start their very own, very large family. This is the premise of the new Young Adult book by the author of Room and Frog Music, but this story is neither as tight nor as grounded as Donoghue’s adult books. Indeed, beginning with the names of her characters, the tale is really quite messy: the seven children (some adopted, some biological) are named after tree species, while the parents assume the too-clever-by-half monikers of PapaDum, PopCorn, MaxiMum, and CardaMom—all of which, due to various nicknames, can cause confusion for an older adult, never mind for the intended audience. Enter an elderly but crotchety grandpa who is ailing, addled, racist, and homophobic; a precocious child or three; a completely free-spirited, new-age tone; and page after page of seemingly random plot threads in which characters communicate via inside jokes, toddler talk, and word play applied to everyday objects and rooms of the house. Readers of any age may be forgiven for becoming totally befuddled—or for feeling that they’re holding a collection of losing lottery tickets.

Terri Schlichenmeyer