Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Detransition, Baby is a witty, cutting, and clever novel about relationships and motherhood, as three characters try to navigate if they’re having a baby. Detransitioned Ames thought he was infertile, until he got his boss, Katrina, pregnant. Not sure about the role he’d take in parenting, he contacts his ex, Reese, with a proposition—to raise the baby with them. Since their breakup a few years ago, Reese has been lonely and sleeping with married men, feeling a like a trans elder with no one to mother, so this could be her chance for what she’s dreamed of: a child.

One of the greatest things about this book for me was the writing, particularly the tone and detail. It can be blunt and brutal in deconstructing characters’ ideas and lives, but also has a real emotional side (there’s even some meta-commentary on this as characters make jokes at a funeral). This is literary fiction about negotiating relationships given a new breath of life, but also self-aware about the people who aspire towards the directions it takes the narrative, such as how middle class cis women might love the idea of something more unconventional without being able to deal with some of the realities of it (giving much more detail might be giving small spoilers, so I’ll refrain). The ebbs and flows of the three main characters’ relationships are fascinating to be drawn into, especially the connection with Katrina and Reese, and how Ames finds it difficult to navigate his own sense of getting someone pregnant amidst the murky waters of gender and trauma.

From even just the title, it’s clear it’s a book that is taking a bold approach to the age old stories of relationships and motherhood, and Peters does a great job of creating the right, wry tone to pull it off. There is something joyful, even through the issues and self-destruction you see in the characters, in the reading experience, and it might be at least in part just the sense of getting the kind of complicated break up literary novel but with biting trans comedy thrown in. It is refreshing and I hope for more contemporary literary fiction that can bring quite such a combination of spot-on references and commentary, cutting jokes, and emotional reckoning.

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