Static

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Title and Link: Static
Author: L.A. Witt
Cover Artist: Trace Edward Zaber
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: M/M Paranormal Romance, Transgendered/Intersex
Length: Novel (73K words)
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by Cole

Review Summary: A fascinating story about what it feels like to live with a disconnect between mind and body in the study of transgendered peoples, all brought together with a paranormal twist.

BLURB

Damon Bryce is worried sick when he doesn’t hear from his girlfriend after she visits her estranged parents, but when he checks up on her, he’s in for the shock of his life—she’s a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population who can shift genders at will. Thanks to her parents, though, she’s been forcibly given an implant that leaves her static—unable to shift—and male.

Alex Nichols desperately wants the implant removed, but getting it out isn’t nearly as easy as putting it in. The surgery is expensive and dangerous. Left in, the implant carries its own set of risks, with the potential to cripple or even kill him. On top of that, he’s carefully kept his identity a secret from more people in his life than just Damon, and his parents aren’t the only ones appalled by shifters.

Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical effects and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how their relationship can get through this unscathed.

Especially if Alex is a static male permanently…

REVIEW

From what I understand, this is the first novel reviewed on this blog that deals specifically with transgendered people in a starring role. Sure, there have been books in this genre (not many, though) that deal with varying gender discussions in all sorts of ways, occasionally in the forefront, but not often, and very rarely about trans, intersex, or gender fluid people (thought that is a completely different discussion). Like all marginalized populations there are often several turnings of the tide, and with last week’s post by Jaye Valentine and Wave on men who cross dress (you can see it here, if you missed it), the growing group of m/m readers who are calling for books that look into the lives of a more diverse group of people, and this new shiny book by LA Witt just recently released by Amber Allure, it is high time, I think for a book about this subject that reaches this audience. Sure, not every book is to everyone’s taste for a variety of different reasons, but I’m happy to read an m/m book that delved more deeply into this subject, and I hope most readers agree with me. And though I would never have though to explore that in a paranormal subtext, I can see how the idea of shifting between genders, a familiar trope, can be used to illustrate the warring factions some people have between their brain and their body. Now that I’ve had my say — off to the review.

The book opens from the POV of Damon Bryce, worried about his girlfriend Alex who he hasn’t seen or spoken to in over two days. They’ve been dating for two years, and Damon is worried about the silence. Alex left him last to meet her parents, a pair of extremely radical fundamentalists, and the visits always send Alex into a spiraling depression that can last days or weeks. Yet, Damon loves Alex, and no matter how often she pushes him away for what seems no reason at all, or refuses to marry him, he knows he has to check up on her. When he arrives at her house, a nearly naked man answers the door and Damon’s first thought is in anger, assuming Alex is cheating on him. Yet the man is in pain, something about a terrible headache and he can barely walk. After getting the strange man settled on Alex’s couch, he finally listens to the man’s story — or rather, Alex’s story.

Alex is a shifter, a small group of people that are able to shift between both genders. He has been afraid to tell Damon because of the suffering and rejection experienced growing up in such a hostile home. Furthermore, Alex is regretful that she didn’t tell Damon before this point because now he’s stuck, unable to shift, after his parents drugged him and had a shady surgeon implant a black market device in his spine, which in their eyes will make him right with God. The loss of his female form is staggering. As a shifter that generally spends an equal amount of time in each body, he feels the extreme loss of half of his identity. Not only that, but the after-affects of the surgery seems the be the most terrible headache in existence.

Damon takes Alex to the hospital where Alex finds that the surgery had caused a spinal fluid leak, resulting in the terrible pain in his head. The situation isn’t serious, but they both soon learn exactly what his parents have done with their illegal actions. The implant may not be stable and could cause paralysis and death. The removal of the implant is incredibly expensive and infinitely more dangerous than the original procedure. And even if Alex is able to get the implant removed, he still might never be able to shift again. Alex also has to decide if it is worth pressing charges against his parents. He wants to save his little sister Candace from his parents clutches, but she already seems to be brainwashed against him. And on top of all that, how will Damon deal with him now being a man? Damon doesn’t know what to think. He loves Alex, but he keeps trying to find the woman he loves in the man standing before him. Can they have a relationship that isn’t sexual? Or is it possible that he can see past the biological trappings and focus on the person he loves with all his heart?

This is a slow story, that really isn’t a romance until quite far into the book. I have been very interested in other people’s reception of this book since it came out earlier this week and I have seen some people say that they don’t believe this is actually a romance. I disagree — sure, it isn’t typical, especially in m/m where the majority of our hero’s are strapping bucks with devilish smiles and killer sex drives. Maybe a better classification for this is a love story (and don’t get upset guys, I don’t mean that this doesn’t end with an HEA, which is all I’ll say about the ending). What I loved most, I suppose, is Damon’s slow realization of what love really means. Damon is a steady and empathic man. He isn’t afraid of what his friends and co-workers will think of Alex being a shifter. The issues he needs to work through are purely internal, and the issues he worked through and the support he offered were heartening to me.

Alex is an example of what a harsh world can make of a person. He is a puzzle to be solved as we slowly learn more about his childhood and how those experiences correlate to his fear of being touched at times, his deep pits of despair, and his self-medication with alcohol. The change of his body to match the gender of his mind at any given time has really been his only therapy in life, and when it is gone, he has no way to cope. What I found most interesting in the discussion within this novel about gender shifters and transgendered people were the differences between them. I loved Tabitha, Alex’s best friend and boss — a biological man who identifies as female, but until such time as a safer and better surgery is invented is permanently pre-op. When Alex loses his ability to shift he unexpectedly leans on Tabitha and can finally understand what it must be like to be faced with the possibility of permanently feeling like you reside in the wrong body. Still, Alex is lucky in that half the time he feels male. He still has a reprieve from that crushing feeling. The exploration of the issues was done very sensitively and thoroughly and presents a real challenge for the romance between Alex and Damon.

There are quite a few surprises within, and let me tell you, it has been quite difficult to talk around them all (so I hope I’ve done a good job). Some readers may find fault with the ending, but I didn’t. I was surprised that I wasn’t surprised, if that makes any sense.  The ending is definitely open to interpretation, which I thought really worked for the couple and I could see their way forward in a very clear light. LA Witt has impressed me in a quite a few of her books with the deep psychological dynamics that arise between her characters. She has her characters really work through their problems. I’ll leave that up to you to decide if you felt the same with this book. I was certainly satisfied and I came away from the book still thinking about what she wrote days later. No matter your reception to the story, that’s worth a lot.  Last, but definitely not least, during my reading I kept thinking of this story as a GFY plotline.  Now, I’ve changed my mind.  I think this is a story about finding someone who is the right person for you.  I think that is the real message Witt was trying to show.

NOTE: As for the use of pronouns, I stuck with a similar usage as the novel.
NOTE 2: I think this is one of the most beautiful Amber Allure covers I’ve seen yet, and I think it does justice to the story.

25 thoughts on “Static

  1. Wave

    As you know Cole, I also read this book. When we discussed it I suggested that you might be the right person to review Static since you are empathetic to certain elements within the story. An excellent job on the review Cole and one of your best, if not your best review.

    I’m sure L.A. will be relieved that Static resonated with you. When I talked to her recently after I read the book, I indicated that I wasn’t sure if it would be reviewed on the site since we had never (to my knowledge) reviewed a book about a transgendered protagonist. I also indicated that reviewing books about trans individuals was definitely not going to be the norm here since this site is for books about gay men.

    I hope other readers do get the book because not only is it unusual, but it’s also engrossing and may be her best work to date.

    1. Cole

      Thank you Wave. I definitely appreciate the praise. This was a challenging review to write, but they are always the best ones in the end, aren’t they? The book definitely spoke to me, so I had a great time writing the review.

      “I also indicated that reviewing books about trans individuals was definitely not going to be the norm here since this site is for books about gay men.”

      This may be difficult to address without giving away spoilers, but your comment is one of the things I found interesting about this book. The most I can probably say is that there is only on page m/m intimacy and sex, which is why this qualifies. It might be difficult for an author to really address this subject and stay within the general accepted guidelines of m/m without damaging the integrity of the message within. The paranormal aspect allowed for this, but you’re right in that that might rarely be the case. That is also considering that there are even any more books that explore this subject in this genre.

      I agree that this is probably her best work to date. It is also most likely my favorite of hers. It sure makes me interesting in what she’ll write in the future!

  2. L. A. Witt

    Cole,

    Thank you for a lovely review! And I can certainly understand why some readers may have disagreed with the book being categorized as a romance. To be honest, I’m not even 100% sure how to categorize it, but I would agree with you that it’s a love story.

    As Wave said, I’m glad to hear the story resonated with you, and I hope it’s resonated with readers the same way.

    Lori (L.A. Witt)

    1. Cole

      Hi Lori.

      Thanks for your comment, first of all. I thought this book was incredibly romantic, but you’re right that this may not be considered a “romance.” I think viewing it as a Love Story works all around.

      I hope that people read this, even if it may not to be to their taste. I think that there is a lot of pigeonholing in this genre (archetypes of characters, etc.) and it is nice to see a book about people who defy classification, who are fluid, which makes who they are as people most important. If you can’t say that this is a X or X book, then what do you have? Simply a book about the characters. I like that.

  3. Reggie

    Wow, great review Cole! :bravo:

    Shifting between genders, so simple and obvious… why hasn’t this been done before? I guess it speaks to the challenge of doing it well and perhaps to our sensitivity to how serious a topic it is.

    I will definately be getting this. I am intrigued by the topic and I like stories where the psychology of the situation is addressed.

    Thanks Cole for the great review :grin:

    Thanks L.A. for a unique and relevant story!!

    1. Cole

      Thanks Reg!

      “Shifting between genders, so simple and obvious… why hasn’t this been done before? I guess it speaks to the challenge of doing it well and perhaps to our sensitivity to how serious a topic it is.”

      That’s what is great about this book — it is a simple idea that is done with a lot of sincerity, compassion and depth of thought. I really think you’ll enjoy this one :)

  4. kiracee

    Great job with the review, Cole.

    LA Witt is one of my favorite authors and I think this is her best work to date. It’s a fabulous, fabulous book. Well-written, a unique and original twist on both shape-shifting and transgender issues, a thorough and thoughtful exploration of the concept, wonderfully human and complex characters, deft and subtle world-building – I really can’t say enough good things about this book.

    1. Cole

      Hi Kiracee,

      “I really can’t say enough good things about this book.”

      I agree! You can see how much thought that Lori put into this story, and how much compassion he has for the subject. That is what makes this book succeed. I think it is a book that everyone should read!

      This is also why Lori is one of my favorite authors as well. I’ve read most of her books (but, not all) and there is always a thread of compassion and depth of the psychological dynamics between the characters.

  5. Ingrid

    It was a good read. A fresh idea, well worked out. I did wonder about Alex’s job though, why stay in that dead end job?

    Thanks for the review Cole

    1. L. A. Witt

      *** SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T READ IT YET ***

      Damon mentions in the last chapter that Alex is going to quit his job as soon as his house sells. ;)

      *** /SPOILER ALERT ***

      Glad you enjoyed the book!
      Lori

        1. L. A. Witt

          Same reason a lot of us get stuck in dead-end jobs: Start working there, hate it, swear you’re going to quit, then suddenly five years have gone by and you’re still there. (depressing, isn’t it?)

          Lori…thankful every day to be OUT of that particular rut

  6. Sirius

    This sounds great Cole. I have read several books by this writer, but the one I had been impressed the most was Cover me, I think this one has the potential to impress me just as much. Thank you.

    1. Cole

      Hi Sirius! I’m reviewing Cover Me next week. So far I’m enjoying it :)

      I hope you like the book! LA Witt is an author that has definitely impressed me.

      1. L. A. Witt

        Dangit, Cole…now I’m going to be biting my nails until that review posts. LOL (Perfect timing, though – the sequel comes out on the 6th! lol)

        Lori

        1. Cole

          I know Lori! That’s one of the reasons I decided to go ahead and review it. I’ve wanted to read it a long time now and I’m excited about the sequel.

          Don’t worry! I’m liking it :)

  7. Sylvia

    Thanks for a great review, Cole. I’ve never read a book of L.a. Witt but I’m going to start with this one.

    1. Cole

      Hi Sylvia!

      LA has a lot of good books, but I really loved this one as well. I hope you enjoy it!

  8. MTElle

    Well, I’ll be picking this one up. Normally I’d have been all over it even before the review just because it’s an LA Witt book and I’ve loved absolutely everything of hers, but the whole transgender thing made me uncertain. I mean, I care deeply about trans issues and have a number of trans friends, including a few I’d definitely be interested in if we were both single. But what I like in real life and what I like in erotic romance do not necessarily have ANYTHING to do with one another! Not that anyone else who posts on this site could sympathize with that, right? :wink:

    1. Cole

      Hey MTElle

      “But what I like in real life and what I like in erotic romance do not necessarily have ANYTHING to do with one another!”

      Yes, I have several trans friends, mostly FTM but passing, not pre- or post-op. Actually, what you said is the crux of the matter, because it all depends on who is reading and their reason for reading m/m or romance in general. That is why I think this book is a separation from the norm for the genre and might not be a top seller. Still, for those that want a book with minimal sex, but a strong love story, I think this suits well :)

      I hope you enjoy it if you decide to read it!

  9. Luci

    This was a total love story :smile: What’s more romantic than realizing that it’s not the boy or girl bits (fun as they may be) that keep us in a relationship but the person themselves? I really liked the ending, anything else would have been odd.

    ETA fab review Cole (as always)

    1. Cole

      Thanks babe!

      I’m glad you liked the book. I know that this (“What’s more romantic than realizing that it’s not the boy or girl bits (fun as they may be) that keep us in a relationship but the person themselves?”) is the theme that a lot of books are working for, the message they’re trying to get across, but whether it was the paranormal plotline in this book or something else, I feel like this accomplished what it was trying to do.

    2. Denni

      Yes, that was one of the tiny bright spots in this book for me. But I kinda wanted to see a build up to the physical attraction (IMO would have seemed a more natural progression). Instead, it felt like no, no, no, no, yes!

  10. Denni

    Excellent review :smile: I’m always on the hunt for less-traditional stories.. I like this author and the summery looked fascinating.

    Unfortunately, after reading I don’t feel like the book lived up to the story potential. I’m a firm believer in individuality in reading taste, and this one just didn’t work for me. IMO the first half of the story read like the author’s social rant…dry and lacking in character or relationship development…almost DNF (major eyerolls happened) :roll:

    The 3rd quarter of the book picked up the pace I was looking for (and this author is capable of). Finally felt like I got to know the lead characters, insight into the relationship, and they were finally starting to work through some of their challenges.

    The final 4th of the book felt a bit like a narrated conclusion. The reader is back outside the story (again) while the author pulls the storylines together and tells us about it (I much prefer showing to telling).

    I really wanted to love this book, but not my favorite by L.A. Witt.

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