Liminal by Jordan Tannahill is a book that pushes boundaries. It doesn’t really have a plot, so it’s pushing the boundaries of what we would typically think of as a novel (although many people see this as more of a memoir, it’s a work of fiction, so we must assume that there are embellishments at the very least). The title itself is about boundaries, the definition of ‘liminal’ according to google reads: “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold”. This threshold is explored philosophically throughout the book, as the character of Jordan enters his mother’s room one morning, unsure of whether or not she is still alive. We return to this moment over and over again, standing at the threshold of his mother’s room, wondering along with him if his mother has crossed the boundary from life into death.
I don’t doubt that the above description has already turned off a few of my readers, and I don’t blame you. Philosophical meanderings are a pet peeve of mine, and I like a good plot to tether me to whatever I’m reading. However, Tannahill doesn’t just ramble on for 300 pages, he jumps in and out of his life (fictional or otherwise) in a sort of coming-of-age story. We learn about his childhood, what it was like growing up with a single mother, his realization that he is gay, and the adventures he finds himself on as a young artist with little responsibility and plenty of lust for life. We also find ourselves hopping all over the world (Jordan leads an exciting life, not sure how he pays for it, but whatevs). We visit Rome, Mexico City, and even Bulgaria! We read about sex clubs, a live art installation featuring a trans-woman addicted to plastic surgery, and a trip to the desert festival Burning Man. For those who aren’t familiar with Burning Man, below is a picture of some of the debauchery that goes on there. It’s like the real-life of version of the Mad Max movies but with touchy-feely hippies. Need I say more?
My point is that there are lots of adventures to be had in this book, it’s not just standing in a doorway and contemplating life. Tannahill is an extremely accomplished playwright, so there’s no question he’s a good writer. Plus, he’s not even 30 yet-excuse me while I cry silently to myself about that fact.
What’s touching about this book is the fact that it’s written essentially as a letter to his mother. Even when describing the first night he meets one of his long-time lovers, he admits sheepishly that he didn’t wear a helmet while biking home with him, directing this comment to his mom. Mind you, many of the things he describes in this book would certainly make his mother cringe even more (the sex scenes, for instance) but as readers we just go along with it. Jordan’s relationship with his mother is at the heart of this book, and their limited interactions act as mooring points when the thought-based paragraphs get a bit tiresome. Besides, when else are you going to get such an intimate glimpse into the life of a queer, atheist artist and his liberal, yet religious single mother? This book is entirely unique, and entirely worth your time.
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