Sometime ago, a friend of mine asked me to read her book Ladyboy and the Volunteer. From the first page, I knew I was reading something special. Her unique style and playful view of intense topics surprised me at every turn. That this was her first book astonished me.
Susanne Aspley and I served in the Army Reserve together. She’d been an Army journalist then, so I knew she could write. I had no idea she could write in a way that made me throw back my head in laughter one minute, and wipe a tear from my eye the next. She writes boldly, as if completely unaware of how penetratingly personal her words are. I simply could not put the book down. I admit, I’m one of those annoying people who sometimes talk to the screen when watching a movie or TV show. Susanne’s book had me talking to the pages, encouraging her, in shocked disbelief and in plain admiration. She’d written a dazzling tale that I knew would blow readers away.
Once published, I knew, I just KNEW others would feel the same way. Until I read what a reviewer at Peace Corps Writers had to say.
The reviewer (who will remain nameless) used about a thousand words to completely tear the book apart. I’m not sure I’d ever read a review quite so mean or off base. It seemed clear the reviewer wanted a I-served-in-the-Peace-Corps-and-found-myself kind of book. There are plenty of books published by Peace Corps Writers that are like that, but Ladyboy and the Volunteer is not one of them. Too bad for the reviewer. He obviously missed the point.
Susanne’s book is about a lot of things, one of which is that the Ladyboy in the story is transgender; a vibrant character who befriends Susanne and exposes her to the LGBT community in Thailand. Soon, a transgender reviewer with a podcast read the book. Again, her take on the work was so negative, Susanne soon received death threats from some in the transgender community. Death threats!
Both the podcaster and the Peace Corps Writers reviews have been taken down. Not because Susanne asked them to. If I had to guess, I think they both may have realized how wrong they were about Susanne’s work.
Which is where my vindication comes in. The Loft Literary Center just announced Susanne Aspley is one of the winners of their McKnight Artist Fellowships, a $25,000 grant for writers of prose. FINALLY, someone read and understood the book for what it is. She is recognized among writers who are graduates of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and authors published in the New Yorker. How cool is that?
I’m so proud of my friend! She’s a talented woman who wore combat boots and will always be one of my sisters in arms, and now a celebrated writer of words. Yes, vindication is sweet and Susanne deserves every honey-dipped morsel of it.