Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Mythical Trifecta

I finished reading Not Otherwise Specified yesterday, and it got me thinking about 'trifecta' books—those that hit three of my reading interests. My s.o. and I have a joke about them, because they're so rare. Easy enough to find, say, a book that deals with boarding school and LGBTQ characters (e.g., Rapture Practice) or dance and Africa (e.g., Cape Town), but boarding school and Africa and dance? Uhh. Good luck with that.

Part of it, of course, is that my interests tend to be fairly specific; another part is that books that fit neatly into one category don't always have easy room for certain other categories. But I keep looking.

And yet: the trifecta doesn't always work. (Or rather, the trifecta book doesn't always work for me.) I looked through my shelves on GR and came up with a new trifecta shelf, and...the results are a little surprising. One: I've read more trifecta books than I would have thought, although in some cases I stretched the definition a bit. Two: some of them I loved, but most of them fell at least a little flat.

The Jack Bank is the book that I usually cite as an example of a trifecta book. It's a memoir set in South Africa (1), with boarding school as a featured setting (2), and it deals heavily with the narrator's sexuality (3). All of which pleases me greatly. The reality of it, though, was that I didn't care for it that much—boarding school was a relatively small part of the book (much smaller than I would have expected from the flap), and he left big questions unasked. Good ingredients, but I wasn't crazy about the way they were used.

Not Otherwise Specified worked much, much better for me, perhaps because (as the author said on her blog) the book is not about the narrator's problems. It's about her. Yes, there's dance and eating disorders and numerous queer characters, but it's less about any of those than it is about Etta figuring things out.

Turns out there are more trifecta books than I thought...but what makes Not Otherwise Specified a mythical trifecta book is that it works.

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