She’s My Dad – Iolanthe Woulff (Outskirts Press)

Buy it now direct from Outskirts Press or from our Amazon.com store – She’s My Dad
 

It is a relatively common occurrence for teachers in higher
education to find their way back to their alma mater in pursuit of an
academic career. The years spent at college define us in many ways,
providing a gateway from adolescence to adulthood, a time of profound
transition and transformation.  In Iolanthe Woulff’s She’s My Dad,
tall, striking, red haired Nickie Farrell’s decision to return to the bucolic
Virginia campus where she graduated as Nick Farrington twenty plus years
earlier is not so common an occurrence, and it effectively sets the stage for
an uncommonly dramatic debut novel.

Nickie Farrell’s return to the school she attended
decades prior to her transition as a MTF transsexual might seem a
sufficiently complex premise for any novel, but the complications do not begin
or end there.  Unbeknownst to Ms. Farrell, Nick Farrington’s affair
with the docile and beleaguered, unhappily married Luanne Skinner
while a student at Windfield College, produced a son, Nicholas (“Collie”)
Skinner.  It is a secret that Luanne guards with her life and that
ultimately erupts in a carefully and intricately plotted tangle of intrigue,
homophobia, racism, violence, romance and above all, self affirmation. 

Still dealing with the formidable challenges of adjusting to
life as a trans woman, Nickie Farrell also finds herself at the volatile center
of a community teetering between tolerance and hatred, and of a deadly plot to
purge that community of the perceived threats to ‘traditional’ morals and
values that she conspicuously embodies.  Clearly this story and its
central characters are close to Woulff’s heart and informed by her own journey
as a trans woman.  Her heroine is sensitively and thoughtfully drawn,
alternately and appropriately fierce and fragile, compelling in both her
struggles and her strengths.  Nickie’s tentative and tenuous romance with
male colleague Alex Steward is both bittersweet and revealing.  Woulff
also provides a believable and pivotal developmental trajectory for young
Collie Skinner, the son Nickie never knew she had, as he confronts the truth
about who he is and how to integrate the revelations about his own identity and
roots in the context of a world view severely constricted by his upbringing and
environment.   

It is an ambitious first novel—roughly 400 pages long with a
swirling storyline that, though cleverly managed, still seems at times too much
to fully flesh out even with the daunting length of the book. One
prevailing impression is that there is more than enough story for a fine
sequel or even a series, with more time and space to focus separately on the
abundance of compelling threads woven together here, such as Nickie’s
navigation of the tricky waters of romance with Alex Steward, her coming to
terms with the shock of being a parent to a grown son, and the complicated
elements of intrigue and malicious prejudice that form the
dynamic backdrop of this work. 

Despite some issues for this Virginia-born and raised
reviewer with the premise of a college in the Old Dominion founded on the
principles of sexual tolerance and diversity—and some occasionally stilted,
Harlequinesque romantic vernacular—Woulff succeeds in creating an uncommonly
appealing main character whose story is engaging and illuminating and
ultimately, heartwarming.  Moreover, she succeeds admirably in
accomplishing that most critical task for the first-time novelist:  She
leaves her readers eager for more.

Reviewed by Dan Stone

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