Ming and Tom meet at a university Pride event and immediately click. Their long-term relationship is loving and profound, but after Ming comes out and begins her transition, their efforts to delay its inevitable collapse threaten to tear them apart beyond repair.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect from this book going in, but what I encountered is one of the finest explorations of human character I’ve read in a long time. The writing is extraordinary. It alternates first person point of view between Tom and Ming, switching every few chapters without warning. The effect is almost dizzying, in the best possible way; Tom and Ming’s voices untangle and detangle as this narrative full of gaps that get filled only in retrospective becomes deeply intimate, yet never veers into voyeurism or trauma porn.
The title, alluded to in a few scenes throughout the novel, sums it up best: showing your belly, physically and metaphorically, is “like entrusting someone with […] a part of yourself.” That is exactly what this book feels like, as we experience Tom and Ming struggling to come into their own together, then apart, then as individuals.
On top of it all, it is also incredibly absorbing. It’s rare that such a subtle human story is also unputdownable, but this had me turning pages and waking up at 5am (no alarm!) just so I could finish it. What could have been a cheap college melodrama is instead a tender, unpretentious, and surprisingly refreshing, novel. Full of beautiful, often harrowing, sentences that seem to give shape to the most complicated emotions, Bellies captures the everyday like few others. Do yourself a favour: pick it up now!