Book review: “My Dinner with Andrea” by Jen Durbent

by Heather McNamara

Overall: 4/5 

Trans Narrative: 5/5

“My Dinner With Andrea” is mostly a love story. Faith is a transgender woman who is trying out dating for the first time in a while. Since coming out and starting hormones, Faith’s marriage to her wife, Michelle, has remained rich in love but no longer involves physical affection. Both parties have turned to others to meet this need for them, but until now, only Michelle has had success. Then Andrea showed up.

Andrea is a pretty but lonely programmer whose presence and energy slowly breathe life back into Faith’s confidence and sense of purpose as Faith and Michelle work out how to go forward with their marriage and lovers. But all is not peaceful. Andrea has an obsessed Nazi in her past and all is not well with the men Michelle chooses to date. The overly helpful Faith feels compelled to protect both of them.

When I say it’s mostly a love story, what I mean is that most love stories find their conflicts in goofy misunderstandings or complicated love triangles that test the characters and loyalties of all involved. This one doesn’t do that. The characters in this novel are  tested by outside adversities. Their connections to one another are strengthened not by clearing up a silly miscommunication but by supporting one another as they face queer struggles and other forms of danger. That being said, it never quite crosses over into being an action story. The intense scenes are short and not particularly adrenaline-fueled. The narrative never reaches a point where the action overcomes the love story. The pacing, in fact, is a bit sluggish and occasionally stalls a bit on protracted awkward conversations and crying jags. The emotionality serves a purpose, but occasionally I found myself just wishing they’d get to the point.

To interested readers: this book is extremely trans woman. It is written by a trans woman and for trans women. And maybe the people who love them, too. But mostly for trans women. Other readers are welcome – as guests. Guests may not understand everything in the book. In fact they probably won’t. The book has a very specific audience in mind – an audience that doesn’t often get to be the audience. An audience that almost always ends up being the guests, or worse, a silent centerpiece served up for the observation and commentary of others. The character Andrea hate-watches The Danish Girl, remarking on this dynamic by saying it is made by “a culture that said this story was okay to be told by cis people.” The experience of reading this book was actually kind of jarring. Most trans movies and books are written by cis people and in the case of movies and plays, subsequently performed by cis people as well. Trans women narratives that aren’t all about dicks and makeup are therefore rare and this one really stands out.

I also want to be sure to mention that this is possibly the gentlest work of fiction I’ve ever read. It still deals with difficult topics. There are rapes, drugs, and violence. There is mental illness and dissociation. There are trans women dealing with a transphobic world. Yet all of it is served to the reader with a light and forgiving touch. Durbent writes with the knowledge that these things are nuanced, difficult to confront, and sometimes will hurt. The characters are allowed to feel and process the harms from their fictional wounds and as they are, the reader receives permission to acknowledge and process real wounds from an inherently harmful world. For example, here is an aside from the narrator when Andrea stops to take a couple of Xanax before a date:

“Dear Reader, don’t worry. This isn’t a story about drugs. This is not foreshadowing of some great dark thing about anxiety. This is just normal. This is just how some people deal.”

Michelle’s disability, too, (she is paraplegic) is handled with compassion and a dose of reality. Faith deals with some pretty normal, typical caregiver habits and feelings. Michelle deals with her need for independence and the realities of her dependence.

Overall, though it was slow at times, I would definitely recommend reading the book. Durbent weaves a good story. I absolutely found myself wanting to know how Faith and Andrea would make it through the delicate first weeks of their relationship and what would happen to Faith’s marriage to Michelle. And it was a great experience to read a normal work of fiction from the unique perspective of a trans woman. It was refreshing! Like going to bed with a volume of Bridget Jones except without all the (ugh) cishets. 

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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