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BOOK REVIEW There Is Room for You
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Liz Baudler
2015-07-28


By Zoe Dolan, $14.99; 304 pages

Zoe Dolan is a woman of words and places. Her memoir, There is Room for You: Tales From a Transgender Defender's Heart, follows her slow realization that she should abandon a life of itinerant art for law, and it shows her subsequent slog towards identity.

Dolan begins the book as an exchange student in Egypt, where she joined the gay community there. She was there the night some of her best friends got arrested on the Queen Boat for trying to form a queer space in the repressive land, and only escaped arrest because she is American. Her compunction over the incident made her consider a law career. Now a criminal-defense lawyer, she has worked with high-profile cases involving mobsters and terrorism suspects.

When her friends were arrested on the Queen Boat, Dolan presented as a gay man, and both home and abroad she subsumed an ever-present disconnect with her body in sex addiction. A sex scene in The English Patient encapsulated her desire; she estimates watching Kristin Scott-Thomas and Ralph Fiennes together 40,000 times, writing, "I wanted to be held like she was held, by a man, in that way." But sex for sex's sake wasn't sustainable, and Dolan entered recovery, then eventually transitioned with surgery while law school. Henceforth she often compares herself to Cinderella stumbling towards midnight on dates with men who don't know about her past, though there have been many who received the news and took it well.

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Dolan has a gift for the evocative. Her repetition—both rhetorical and actual—and shifting timeline don't detract from her narrative, instead giving it the feel of constant motion, a swirling visceral collage of a self-made, accomplished life. She often alludes to events before they happen, most notably a sexual assault. Milestones can be hard to track; there are multiple trips to Egypt, and multiple legal affairs. Yet readers should trust and surrender to Dolan's idiosyncratic flow, generally.

The law briefs in the book's latter third jar its almost ethereal feel. In true lawyer fashion, Dolan's given to documentation, and other primary sources like her Facebook posts are a clever and elucidating addition. And, understandably, she's proud of her performance and career. But we've fallen in love with her voice so much that to interrupt it with impersonal legality is a loss. Confession: I could not get through the cases. What I really wanted was Dolan's reflective voice guiding me through the trials, her reactions in particular moments, perhaps her regrets. Unless there were some reason she was bound from writing in a more personal manner, it seems odd that she would leave this defining aspect of her life comparatively unexamined.

Still, There is Room for You stands as an absolutely beautiful tale of discovery and persistence. Dolan freely admits to nearly flunking out of law school in her first year, living on cabbage while setting up private practice and wanting to get away from New York winters. Gifted with both incredible intelligence and superhuman capacity for connection and adventure, hers is not an average account of transition. But it is told uniquely and thoughtfully—and readers will want to see Dolan through it.

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