Documenting Light, by EE Ottoman
Publisher: Brain Mill Press
Release Date: August 31, 2016
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
If you look for yourself in the past and see nothing, how do you know who you are? How do you know that you are supposed to be here?
When Wyatt brings an unidentified photograph to the local historical society, he hopes staff historian Grayson will tell him more about the people in the picture. The subjects in the mysterious photograph sit side by side, their hands close but not touching. One is dark, the other fair. Both wear men’s suits.
Were they friends? Lovers? Business partners? Curiosity drives Grayson and Wyatt to dig deep for information, and the more they learn, the more they begin to wonder — about the photograph, and about themselves.
Grayson has lost his way. He misses the family and friends who anchored him before his transition and the confidence that drove him as a high-achieving graduate student. Wyatt lives in a similar limbo, caring for an ill mother, worrying about money, unsure how and when he might be able to express his nonbinary gender publicly. The growing attraction between Wyatt and Grayson is terrifying — and incredibly exciting.
As Grayson and Wyatt discover the power of love to provide them with safety and comfort in the present, they find new ways to write the unwritten history of their own lives and the lives of people like them. With sympathy and cutting insight, Ottoman offers a tour de force exploration of contemporary trans identity.
I’ve been a fan of EE’s for nearly two years now and I’ve read and admired all their work. They has a mention on my very-favourite-authors list (containing only 4 authors) and that’s due to them having made an actual lasting change in my life.
With Documenting Light they has published their first contemporary romance, venturing out of their SFF (comfort) zone. It is an important book and it is just as much their usual brand as it is different – meaning they is true to themself, yet claiming new territory.
Documenting Light is a very quiet and laid-back book. It’s slow and lovely and the fact that it takes place in winter only highlights that. As always, EE is very gentle with their characters and caring. They takes their time to introduce them, gives them a background and family, and moreover, writes them a happy ending that is exactly made just for them.
Documenting Light is a love story about two very real people and it has nothing of the fairytale like romance elements we so often find in books of the romance genre. At this point, it gets a bit tricky since I don’t want to give anything away… But, sometimes life is difficult – often, actually – and problems don’t go away only because we find a partner. When reading a book, I sometimes catch myself musing about what the author probably intends to write for the characters to give them the best happily ever after. It’s just so neat. There’s a problem and look, here’s the solution. That’s where Documenting Light is different and that’s one of the things I like the most about this book, because it challenges the standard romance narrative and instead of giving us romantic cures for problems, we have just two people getting together and sharing their every day and personal struggles, which is even more fulfilling to read about, since we’re shown a story of love that could very well be us.
Apart from the romance, the search for the people in the old photograph takes up an important role in the book as well.
It was odd, when he stopped to think about it, to never see yourself reflected in history, to have no sense of yourself in time. The idea that you could be linked to others across time and space based on shared experience—it had always seemed like it didn’t apply to people like him.
I really liked this and was curious about the men in the photo and wanted to get to know their story. Where are they from? Why was their photo taken and why was it hidden in the house? It was absolutely engrossing (although I am not at all that interested in history) and also allowed for good pacing and plot development and the musings about research and science today being heteronormative, just like everything else, were really interesting, too.
I have only two very small niggles here. In the last third of the book the flow is a little bit missing, or rather the chapters/story lines feel a little bit next to each other, while before it felt more as a whole. I also do not entirely buy how abruptly Wyatt and Grayson get intimate with each other, since everything thus far had been going so slow and hesitant.
I hope it is not too pretentious of me to claim that we can find a lot of EE in this book and in this it is and feels very much like an own voices book. Their being trans themself and their fight for equality shines through the pages and their love for history and research is palpable. I believe that this book is very close to their heart and I’m thrilled that they shared this with us.
I loved reading this book very much. It’s unique, very well written, and I hope you’ll give it a try! Highly recommended.
EE Ottoman grew up surrounded by the farmlands and forests of Upstate New York. They started writing as soon as they learned how and have yet to stop. Ottoman attended Earlham College and graduated with a degree in history before going on to receive a graduate degree in history as well. These days they divide their time between history, writing, and book preservation.
Ottoman is also a disabled, queer, trans dude whose correct pronouns are: they/them/their or he/him/his. Mostly, though, they are a person who is passionate about history, stories, and the spaces between the two.
You can purchase Documenting Light from:
Brain Mill Press
Barnes & Noble
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.