ROUGH PARADISE by Alec Butler (Quattro), 124 pages. $18 paper. Rating: NNN
This slim volume is thick with insight into the experience of an intersex teen struggling through puberty in a small Maritime town.
Terry has a sexual anatomy that doesn't fit the norm: breasts, a beard and a budding penis. In his heart and soul, he believes he's a boy.
His parents don't. His mother insists on calling him Teresa - at Terry's birth, before facial hair and penis, this might have made sense - and his father wants to cram him into a dress. Both threaten to commit him to the local mental facility if he doesn't embrace girlhood.
When he meets queer kindred spirit Darla, he sees new possibilities - the chance of love and to be himself. But Darla has her own problems, including her rapist dad and a family with serious criminal connections. And when Terry discovers they're linked in other ways, he has to consider yet another shift in his identity.
There's not a lot of character development, and the ending is a bit too easy. You can tell Butler is an accomplished playwright: the dialogue is stronger than the author's sense of place.
But the story is compelling because it's written as if the narrator is actually 15. The simplicity of the prose adds immediacy to each observation, as if every painful moment represents the potential end of the world. The villains, especially a doctor who specializes in sexual violation, are believable, and Darla and Terry's explicit erotic encounter is a revelation.
Butler, himself intersex, obviously knows what he's talking about.