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On Larissa Glasser’s F4

Ori­gin­ally pos­ted on Goodreads.

Larissa Glasser’s F4 is filthy, bizarre, ultra-viol­ent, and hyper-(trans-)sexual, and I’m sure it’s meant to be all those things. For a few moments, it’s also quite melancholy.

It’s a novella about a gang of women and a boy, most of whom have pen­ises. They’re stuck on a cruise ship, which is graf­ted onto the dormant body of a massive Kaiju. Within chapters the lech­er­ous pas­sen­gers of the ship morph into outer-worldly hell­s­pawn, and it only gets wilder from there on out.

There are lots of guns, impossible shapes, oozes and other flu­ids, hybrids of the human and inhu­man that should not be. And dicks. And dick energy. It’s all a bit overwhelming.

While I am a trans woman, I haven’t read all that much fic­tion by and for trans women spe­cific­ally. In some ways, what Glasser writes some­times bor­ders on the objec­tion­able, were it writ­ten by any­one other than a trans woman. I would call it objec­ti­fy­ing and fet­ish­iz­ing. But I don’t believe in the death of the author in this regard. The thing is: being a trans woman entails, to a cer­tain degree, a near-con­stant hyper-self-aware­ness, an objec­ti­fy­ing of the self. We have to, because we don’t fit into any of the stand­ard cul­tural (or sexual) modes of being in our soci­ety, and this is the only way for us to make sense of ourselves.

On some level, all of the over-the-top bizarro hijinx feels like an exor­cism, an out­let for how much like *freaks* we trans people often feel. The lurid, lewd parts of F4 embrace that in a rebel­li­ous and in-your-face way. It wants to say: “So what if we’re freaks? So is every­one and everything else, if you really look at it.”

It’s for this reason that the pon­der­ous middle part of the book, which focuses on a much more down-to-earth (trans) his­tory of Carol, the prot­ag­on­ist, is valu­able too. It shows a woman much like any other try­ing to get by in a world where other people (pre­dom­in­antly men) don’t really seem to care for your well-being all that much.

I’m not sure how well all these parts fit together, but they do bal­ance each other, and maybe even need each other. How apt then that most of the book takes part on arti­fi­cial struc­tures awk­wardly bolted onto primal flesh. It’s a supremely janky ride, but some­how it’s one Carol and the other have to see through to the end. (Kinda like trans­ition­ing, ha!)

I don’t like judging things, let alone rat­ing them. I put 3 stars here because I feel like Glasser is still busy refin­ing her voice—and this *is* her first novella. F4 is a strange hybrid of ideas and rad­ical hon­esty about trans feel­ings and hor­ror, and it some­times feels awkward—insert ‘mouth­feel’ joke here. But this is also me listen­ing to a story told by a sib­ling, a story no one else could tell quite the same way, and that is some­thing you can’t put a price (or a score) on.