on September 22, 2012
I devoured Sassafras Lowrey's debut novel, Roving Pack. I tried to savor it, but it was not a small bites book, not a go slow on the first read experience.
The prose is achingly simple, stripped down and transparent, with an intensely compelling central character and a universe drawn in immense detail. The kind of prose I love. The kind of prose that makes me think--I can do that; writing doesn't have to be fancy and confusing, it can be approachable, it can be real. The kind of prose that carries me away on the story.
I fell for Click and felt for Click--or rather, felt with Click. Sometimes so intensely it was too much, and I needed to put the book down for a bit. Click and I come from different cultural contexts, in so many ways. (Click exists in a straight-edge queer leather gutter punk community in PDX in the early 2000's.) And, yet...some of this novel hit very close to home, reached into sore places for me. And it wasn't gentle about it.
Roving Pack is precisely detailed in the way it weaves in some painful realities of queer leather life. For that in particular, it is so deeply needed, in so many ways. It gives you a visceral feel for very specific experiences that are not often discussed at all, much less there on the page in a novel that is steeped in the reality of them. It gets right to the gut of them, and so I'm going to speak from that gut as I write about it. I'm about to get specific about a few threads in the novel. So if you are the sort that avoids spoilers, stop reading now.
For us genderqueer folks who don't fit the traditional trans narrative and are struggling with/against community norms, pressures and expectations around what makes you "legitimately" trans, us veterans of gender border wars...this book will break your heart in the ways it illuminates this reality. It left me in shards, not wrapped up nice and neat, not hopeful, but oh so raw, and that bold choice was so frustrating and real...and I'm not sure what I think of it yet. I will tell you that it sucked to leave Click in that moment. Beyond that, I'm still thinking about the way it ends, and don't know where I will land on that.
For those of us who know what it's like to want abusive and neglectful parents and family members to just leave you alone, and who grapple with the fear that comes from being stalked by those who were supposed to protect you but instead inflicted harm that still is unending with the stalking...this thread is woven very tightly into this book. It is part of the context, and part of the story, but doesn't take center stage much of the time, in a way that I found eerily familiar. This aspect of the novel haunts me. Because that's the reality of this experience; it is part of the every day, and then it flares up and takes over, and then it fades again into just part of life. If you know this experience, this thread may trigger you. And it may feel like someone finally got it right, put it down the way it is. Probably both.
For those of us who came to leather so deeply hungry to submit and be wanted that our hunger drove our choices to some hard and traumatic places...this book savors the details of that experience, with all of its erotic charge and real danger, the intense vulnerability and need, and the exploitation, heartbreak, and abuse that can and often does happen in those circumstances. It illustrates how complicated abusive Ds dynamics can be, how much they can feel normal and even valued in leather communities, how intensely they can include love and desire. Click doesn't simplify hir experiences with these two Daddies that left hir broken and orphaned. Ze insists we hold hir yearning and desire, hir pain and confusion, the way hir life and sense of self intertwined with both the care and the abuse ze experienced in these relationships. The boot shaped bruises on hir heart are bared for us to see in sharp detail, and they don't let us distance ourselves from them in easy ways--we can't just call it abuse and leave it at that. We are forced to hold the complexity.
It is this last thread that I am especially grateful for. Most writing about leather is how to, or intended to get you off. It is rare to see anything that focuses on leather relationships in the real world, and these are at the center of this novel, both Click's relationships with hir Pack, as well as hir Daddies and casual lovers. I treasure that. But I particularly treasure the way that Lowrey unflinchingly describes the complexity of abusive and neglectful D/s relationships, from the inside, particularly Daddy dynamics with their specific intensity and play with identity and dependence.
I can only imagine how hard it was to write this. I know it was very hard to read it. And. As a survivor of this kind of D/s relationship, it was invaluable to see it reflected in print in a real and complex way. It felt affirming to have this be part of Click's reality, and have it be as big as it was, and yet not the whole story. Because that's the thing about trauma--it is huge and ripples all the way through our lives, and it also is not the entirety of our lives, or our consciousness about them, it's not the only priority or the only story, does not take over everything, even if it sometimes feels like it will.
We don't talk about abuse in leather communities very often. I know, because I have felt the backlash and the desperate welcome that comes with being someone who does talk about it. It is so important to have these conversations from a complex and compassionate place, and Roving Pack is a vital voice in that endeavor.
In Roving Pack, Lowrey does what I need from queer literature; ze unflinchingly tells an insider story, one rife with specificity, that documents a very particular queer leather culture in a very particular setting. I am very glad that this book is out in the world, doing its essential work.