(by Anya Johanna DeNiro)
If you need a mythology refresher (which I did, before I started reading this): per Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, Psyche was a) the goddess of the soul, b) Cupid’s wife and c) a great beauty who was transformed from being a mortal woman to being immortal after a series of trials. This all seems relevant to consider when thinking about the main character of this short novel, who’s an unnamed trans woman in Minnesota who is figuring things out as best she can. She misses her son, who lives with her ex-wife in a different state, and wishes she had been more present as a parent before she and her ex got divorced, and wishes she could be more present now. In addition to the mythological elements and the realistic-fiction elements, the book also has some speculative-fiction elements/seems to be set in an ominous near-future: there are references to “armed guards in front of the luxury towers” and “vast manta ray drones that hover above the plains states” and “hospital trains, one car after another acting as a trauma unit, coursing through the heartland,” and California, somehow, has “outsourced its earthquake activity” to the Rust Belt city where the main character was born, where her mother still lives. There’s also a mysterious group with supernatural powers (maybe?) that helps the narrator and other trans people.
I kind of wanted more of the speculative stuff, but I enjoyed all of the novel’s strands and the way that DeNiro weaves them together. There are moments of really great writing (though I wished there had been fewer typos), from the book’s first sentence on. I mean, this is a great first sentence: “You have struggled for a long time as to whether you have a soul or not—whether anyone does—or if you’re only a gathering of restless and ginned-up personality traits brought together to fool yourself into believing that there is, in fact, a you.” There’s also a section of the book I loved where Keats’s “Ode to Psyche” is quoted in full, interspersed with snippets of the main character’s thoughts about/experiences with Tinder and the dudes she’s interacted with there. I also love how someone the main character dates shows the main character “a flowchart of how everyone in her polycule was connected to each other, and it was like a star chart from the Age of Exploration,” and how then, after that relationship ends, the main character considers this: “you had to earn your own circle of caring people, your own star chart that would lead you to voyage somewhere else, somewhere else you needed to be more than anything.”