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The Barcelona Review: Book Reviews



A Million Fragile Bones by Connie May Fowler
Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace with Dan Ozzi

The Barcelona Review: Book Reviews


bookcoverA Million Fragile Bones:  A Memoir
by Connie May Fowler

Twisted Roads Publication, 2017

Quite by chance, the day after I finished A Million Fragile Bones, I saw Deepwater Horizon on an airplane. Both deal with the tragic events of the 2010 BP oil spill. While the film focuses on the explosion itself, which even from that tiny screen conveyed the horror of it all as well as the negligence and greed that set it in motion, Connie May Fowler’s memoir takes in the appalling aftermath.  I recommend the film if you happen to get a chance; the memoir, however, is a must.

Of course, it is not all about the oil spill; we know that is to come and it does, but this powerful “sacramental moment of bearing witness” is so much more.  As Fowler tells us, her story begins in the middle, which would be the author in her sea shack on a barrier island in Florida known as Alligator Point.  From here she maneuvers backward and forward in time, but always with Alligator Point as her anchor.  Here on the “sugar sand shores and wind-ribbed dunes” the reader is drawn into a world of such natural beauty that even an urbanite like me is left in awe.  Living in close harmony with all around her, the author writes knowingly of sea turtles and their habits, of osprey and egrets, delicate starfish, dolphins (with which at one point she communes!) as well as the heavens above and the pull of the tide.  There are also bob cats, coyotes and bears, revered all.   And a houseful of dogs and cats, with charming, distinct personalities.  From here it is possible to piece together parts of a painful past that have yet to be fully understood.   There is the father, who died when she was six, from whom she learned a love of nature and about whom uneasy revelations are to follow.  There is the alcoholic, abusive mother, now also dead, with whom she struggles to make peace. There was poverty growing up.  The past is movingly woven in, heartbreaking at times, but faced with courage and determination, and sustained, always, by a rare affinity with nature.

Just as the author comes to find tranquility in the splendor of this natural world by the sea, it begins.  There is the report that an oilrig exploded.  Eleven platform workers are missing (later pronounced dead).  Authorities claim that there is no crude oil emanating from the wellhead, but CNN later announces that BP is moving equipment into the area that will “minimize the environmental impact of any spilled oil.” The pelicans disappear.  And then there is a smell, of oil or smoke.  Black yucky stuff, like fine soot begins coating everything.   The water becomes dark and leaden; tar balls wash ashore.  Breathing becomes difficult and “gunky ropes” form in the mouth.  No straight answers ever come from BP. This most gruesome and unnecessary disaster upends the lives and livelihoods of all who live there as their world is slowly transformed into an oil swamp.  The government estimates 4.2 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf; while a dispersant, banned in other countries, proved toxic.

Fowler, a long-time environmental activist, ends with an Appendix:  BP’s Making of a Disaster.  But before all the well-documented facts and figures, she concludes her personal story.  Filled with wonder, passion, rage, dignity, this memoir will touch your heart.  While acknowledging the greed and inhumanity adrift in our world, it is, above all, a confirmation of the astounding beauty of our natural world and the powers of healing and growth.   J.A.

The Barcelona Review: Book Reviews


bookcoverTranny:  Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout
by Laura Jan Grace with Dan Ozzi

Hachette Books, 2016

As anyone with even a passing love of punk music knows, Against Me!, out of Gainesville, Florida, made waves from its beginning. Headed by frontman, Tom Gabel, the group's punk anarchist manifesto held to DIY recording and performances, and any money earned was split evenly amongst them all, if money passed hands at all.  Living in squats, eating out of dumpsters, that was part of the scene, along with getting as fucked up as possible.  It was a rough and bumpy life for everyone, but far rougher and bumpier for Gabel because he carried a secret that he could share with no one:  he was transgender.  At age 33, he finally came out, and thereafter has been known as Laura Jane Grace.  This is her story.

Born in 1980 to Major Thomas Gabel and Bonnie Gabel (née Grace), the family moved frequently between military bases, both in the U.S. and abroad.  From a very young age Grace experienced feelings of gender dysphoria. At five years old, she remembers seeing Madonna on TV, and thinking, "I want to be her," though she instinctively knew to keep such thoughts to herself. 

At age twelve her parents divorced, and Grace went with her mother and brother to live with their grandmother in Naples, Florida, a city "mainly comprised of tourists and rich, white, elderly people." An outcast from the beginning, punk music became the perfect outlet for a growing anxiety that young Tom was only starting to more specifically understand. This was before the internet, and there was nowhere to turn for even the most basic information, much less help and support. 

As a mouthy punk, soon to become a high-school dropout, there were hassles with the police and it led to a particularly brutal arrest (later inspiring the song, I Was a Teenage Anarchist). After the incident, Grace came to identify with British anarcho-punk band Crass, calling them "the best band to ever blend music and politics." A few like-minded musicians came together in the Grace-family basement and it wasn’t long before Against Me! was formed. 

Eventually, the big record companies took interest.  Desperate for money and tired of dumpster diving, the band signed with Sire records, which put them on the road to greater exposure and some financial security.  The original fan base of DIY punks turned on them with a vengeance for "selling out," and everywhere Against Me! went they faced protests. The van's tires were slashed, the group was spit on, and nasty graffiti sprayed everywhere.  Amidst all this, the band continued and Tom married and had a daughter, all the while keeping her secret, but finding it impossible not to give in to spells of dressing up in women's clothes and pretending to be her, the true self under the punk macho guise. 

Much of the memoir is about life on the road—the drugs and alcohol (and the constant battle with it all), the punks who now hated them, the questionable dealings from managers and promoters, the growing unrest amongst the band members, the long stretches of boredom on tour as well as the highs, such as when they hit the big stadiums and arenas, opening for bands like Green Day and the Foo Fighters.  Of course for Tom there was the increasing burden of having to hide her true identity, which eventually could no longer be contained.

The book chronicles her coming out—first to her wife, then in a grand way in an interview in Rolling Stone in 2012, which served as a formal declaration.  We follow the wife's and daughter's reaction as well as that of the band and family  members, and fan base.

I read this book straight through, unable to put it down. The author's narrative voice is modest and self-effacing, which nicely pulls the reader along into a no-holds-barred baring of the soul. Know what's it's like as a man to buy women's clothing at Sears? To try and fill your first script of hormone injections in a conservative Florida pharmacy?  It is filled with journal entries from an early age around which runs the life story.  There are some repetitions, as one might expect, but they only serve to highlight the pain and agony, as well as the self-loathing, that Grace had to carry from an early age.  Against Me!, with a new line-up save for one, continues bigger than ever.  Only now it is Laura Jane Grace, a marvelous singer, songwriter, and guitarist, who fronts the group.   JA
Read an excerpt from  TRANNY Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout

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