AM Homes’s  “A Real Doll”  is powerful, playful, and a little dark. This might be the story I’ve re-read the most in my life, because it’s the best piece of writing I’ve ever read on burgeoning adolescent sexuality, the dangerously rigid confines of commercially defined gender binaryism, the exciting wilderness of negotiation during those first few tentative steps toward sexual relationships, and the way that the mediated cliches of love and attraction make it difficult to feel the things you want to feel.

The story unfolds in the voice of an unnamed young man, who falls into something that seems to approximate love with his younger sister’s barbie doll. Homes’s prose is engaging and funny, and the story of this  boy-on-Barbie fling is totally captivating for it’s sheer fuckedupitude. But it’s tricky, because it’s not actually shocking, that a person would confuse plastic for the pleasure of the flesh.  Sex is one of the only arenas of adult life that allows for real play, for trying on stories and identities and tying your imagination to your body. Because Homes’s narrator is right on the cusp of adulthood the posturing he does is a little more anxiously free, outside of the implied boundaries of the adult world between the bedroom  and everywhere else. His footing is made even more unsure by the socially constructed world of desire, of men and women and boys and girls, and of course that his feelings are wrapped up in a literalness of the phrase ‘object of his desire.’

“A Real Doll” is so full of detail and expertly used syntactical contradiction that I feel a bit guilty for talking about the themes of this one instead of just gushing over the humour and dark warmth of Homes’s craft in this story. It’s a blessing and a curse that this story is so good because I just want to keep reading it over and over.


You can read “A Real Doll” in the Barcelona Review here.

Photograph borrowed from the Flickr account of Keven Fredirko.