Plett’s old protagonists return, explore elusive meaning of being ‘grown up’

Short story collection approaches complexity with compassion

Originally from Manitoba, Casey Plett currently lives in Windsor, Ontario. Her latest collection of short stories, A Dream of a Woman, follows a number of trans women as they navigate the space between the lives they lead and the lives they wish they had.

“Every protagonist in A Dream of a Woman gets to a point where she’s in her 30s with a lot of post-transition years under her belt, and each one understands that she is a boring old female walking around being a boring old lady. And the concept of growing older, of being a woman in the sense that the word connotes some sense of grown-upness – that remains slippery and elusive,” says Plett.

This collection follows her first book of short stories, A Safe Girl to Love, and her novel, Little Fish. “I think I see A Dream of a Woman as the third part of a particular fiction project,” Plett says.

A few characters from her first story collection – “trans women in their 20s who had just transitioned and were basically losing it” – return in these pages along with new characters, now “trans women in their 30s, many of whom are dealing with different things than the girls in A Safe Girl to Love and, well,” she admits, “are sometimes dealing with the same things. Growth in spite of recursiveness interests me.”

Her interest in growth through and in spite of recursiveness is reflected in the structure of the collection, which includes three sets of linked stories arranged in a kind of mirror sequence, anchored by a novella. Plett says that, now that she’s finished it, she thinks of the collection as a palindrome.

Plett approaches the complexities of her protagonists’ experiences of themselves and their communities clearly and with great compassion. Vera, the protagonist of the five “Obsolution” stories, finds herself surprised by how growing up post-transition has meant becoming more (emotionally and spiritually) like the teenage boy she used to be.

Casey Plett
Casey Plett

“There’s an ache in that,” says Plett, “something peaceful but also sad – melancholy. There were odd parts of you that you ended up wanting to keep, but the only way to get there was to first try throwing it all away.”

With the title of the collection, A Dream of a Woman, Plett intends the phrasing as both “collapsing the false boundaries of transness and womanhood” and revealing something darker about the lives of these protagonists; for all that they are women, she says, “there is a part of them that continues to ‘want to be a woman.’” To illustrate this, she quotes the end of Andrea Long Chu’s essay “On Liking Women,” where Chu speaks of transness as “not identity but desire.”

Plett says, “This kind of thing is extremely difficult to discuss – there is virtually no way to do so in public in a way one can trust. This might be the first time I am doing so outside of a fictional setting. For the protagonists in the book – Hazel, Vera, Nicole, Tiana, Gemma, and the narrator of ‘Floodway’ – they rarely discuss this fundamental paradox of wanting and being, but they experience it intensely, their individual dreams of women.”