A Narrative to Fit the Experience.

AuthorBrinks, L.
PositionTar Hollow Trans: Essays

Tar Hollow Trans: Essays

By Stacy Jane Grover

The University Press of Kentucky 152 pages

Publication date: June 20, 2023

Book reviews can often feel like a hot food court in the mall on a Sunday afternoon--full of background noise and the skimming of menus for something familiar and comfortable, actively ignoring everything else. Tar Hollow Trans: Essays, Stacy Jane Grover's forthcoming book, is not to be swallowed and digested with ease, but rather is a tome filled with challenging history and identity politics, to be meditated upon as a prompt for self-reflection on one's own personal narrative.

This immersive collection of essays on Grover's life, childhood, and home region in Appalachian Ohio is a gift to the grown-ups of the rural queer community she grew up in. "For my generation, moving out of the region was seen as a choice," she writes, "as if something other than simply needing to earn a living lured us out of the county."

Her voice speaks softly yet firmly to the challenges of identity and the violence of rewriting an experience to fit the narrative. Grover's essays bring forward artifacts of Appalachian history tied closely to her own experiences as a child and young adult. "I couldn't just bloom where I was planted. My generation never really could." Throughout, she lifts heavy thoughts about identity and self-knowledge, confronting the difficulty of telling a nuanced story in favor of an oversimplified one: "I don't want to create a dominant narrative at the expense of the more complicated reality to gain the acceptance of legible visibility over authentic representation."

Grover's extraordinary ability to manipulate the stark imagery of small-town Ohio onto the page allows readers to smell the soil of the corn fields beside the unpaved roads and the cigarette smoke in the parking lots behind the local Walmart. Her fondness for the place seeps into even the unpleasant details and uncomfortable memories; to share is itself an act of defiance in the face of personal essay controversy.

The author weaves in a fair amount of media criticism; in one essay she distinguishes how the colossal media engine, fed by clickbait, laps up trauma and spits out writers brave enough to share their personal stories. Tar Hollow Trans pushes back against this content millstone, with Grover demonstrating a deft ability to fluctuate between nostalgia and neoteric observations.

What could have been a book circling the...

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