Some Strange Music Draws Me In by Griffin Hansbury

by Jun 14, 2024Book Reviews


Griffin Hansbury’s novel, SOME STRANGE MUSIC DRAWS ME IN, is worth your time. Set in the fictional, blue-collar town of Swaffham, MA, a trans man’s life is told in a dual timeline. In 1984, awkward and adrift 13-year-old Mel experiences a summer of self-awakening after she meets trans woman Sylvia. In 2019, 48-year-old Max packs up his childhood home after the passing of his mother, causing him to reflect on that fateful, coming-of-age summer when he still lived as Mel.

To be blunt, SOME STRANGE MUSIC is one of the best novels I’ve read in a while. I’m sure some of that is bias since I deeply appreciated the rarely discussed topics of trans man, generational, and class struggle this novel expertly expresses. But even beyond these themes, the storyline is engaging and the prose is beautiful. Truly, Hansbury is a master class in the power of word choice.

In our world of fast-paced reading, the language and approach of SOME STRANGE MUSIC demands readers to slow down. If you blink, you’ll miss an expert expression of a moment. If you move too quickly, you’ll overlook the layers of subtleties Hansbury carefully stacks as the story progresses, all coming to a quietly devastating, clever, and hopeful ending.

And yet despite its quiet devastation, peppered throughout are it’s-funny-because-it’s-true moments, the most notable being when Max must go through gender identity sensitivity training because he upset a cishet student when he used the word “tranny” and she/her pronouns regarding his childhood self.

Thus incorporates Max’s struggles as an older trans person in a world that has since changed at a breakneck pace and leaves no room for the people who came before it. In 1984, we watch a townie egg slowly crack without the language to describe what she’s feeling; a world with no internet, no plethora of YA novels, and only a single, somewhat obscure entry in the local library’s card catalog. All Mel has is Sylvia, her foal-legged emotions further complicated by that most ancient conundrum of queer attraction: Do I romantically love you or do I just want to be you?

The trans elder circle of life continues in Max’s 2019 timeline, in which he gets to know his great-niece (nibling?) while packing up his childhood home, amazed and bewildered by the teenager’s freedom of choice and expression. With so many books these days eager to portray their trans characters as breathtaking and glittery—and there’s nothing wrong with that—Hansbury’s Max charmingly and unapologetically takes the opposite approach: “I’m not the fabulous kind of trans….I’m the boring kind.”

Beyond topics such as above, Hansbury mindfully engages with multiple others, such as cis women as oppressors, the hypocrisy of self-expression, queerphobia ironically improving one’s life, and gender identity in peak capitalism. His approach to the material encourages readers to sit with it long after, most especially if it’s caused them some discomfort. But nothing in the story is inherently declared as right or wrong. Rather, Hansbury opens up mature and thoughtful discussion based on one character’s specific struggles and experiences.

This is the kind of book you’ll be eager to read twice, to share with others so you can discuss it at length. It drops in so many truths, only to continue on with its soft pace as if it didn’t just do what it did. But no matter how you approach it, SOME STRANGE MUSIC is a novel you won’t soon forget.

 


SOME STRANGE MUSIC DRAWS ME IN is available now here.

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