The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt - Jon-Jon Goulian This was a very surprising and interesting memoir. I'm not exactly sure how to describe it because I'm not exactly sure how to describe Jon-Jon. That's kind of the whole point of the book; Jon-Jon's trying to explain not only to his family and friends and readers, but also to himself, who he is and how he became who he is. He had a promising start in a family full of potential, excelling in advanced placement math and science classes and a star athlete on his school's soccer team. But somehow along the way he morphed from "Jock + Scholar to Sexually Neutered Androgyne," i.e., he started wearing skirts, pumps, and lipsticks and quit having any interest in sports and future academic prospects. Around this time Jon-Jon decides to get his ears pierced and the way he explains the complexity of this decision (which ear(s) to pierce and their socially understood meanings) sheds light on the conundrum that his parents (and everyone else for that matter) will face when wondering, "what is he?"

"Earrings in both the right ear and the left ear were unclear. They meant that you were (a) gay; or (b) that you were not only gay but also a budding transvestite; or (c) that you were not gay but only a budding transvestite; or (d) that you were not gay, and not a budding transvestite, but just weird and confused and in need of some sort of psychological counseling."

I'm still not quite sure what to make of Jon-Jon. At first I thought he was just a vain, attention-seeking drama queen (I just didn't understand why a man would insist on wearing outlandish, sometimes down-right hoochie, women's clothing if he wasn't gay). But after reading about his childhood and relating to parts of it, I feel a lot of compassion for him and just hope he'll be all right. His life is kind of depressing. It doesn't seem like he'll ever be physically or mentally able to have a lasting romantic relationship (unless he has some hardcore counseling sessions to sort through his various issues) and he's currently living alone in Vermont spending his time gardening, so it seems like he'd be quite lonely. I just want to give the guy a hug.

Jon-Jon had a painfully awkward childhood. Like literally, physically painful - he had what appeared to be a third testicle that he was too terrified to show to his doctor father so he ended up just ignoring it and hoping it would go away (he later learns that this mysterious third ball is something called an inguinal hernia and gets it taken care of). On top of having that, his dad is an extreme health nut and has his entire family on a strict diet with no processed foods or junk food (which added fear of clogged arteries and stroke to Jon-Jon's already long list of paranoias). Add to this the stress and pressure of extremely high expectations from his entire family (his two brothers ended up becoming a lawyer and a physicist while his father and mother were a doctor and lawyer respectively, and his grandfather was a famous philosopher). I really loved his Armenian grandmother, Granny Shammy, who unwaveringly insisted that her favorite grandson grow up to become a doctor and heal people and make the world a better place. I think everyone has had a grandparent (or someone) who has placed an immense amount of hope in their grandchild and it makes you want to do everything worldly possible not to disappoint them. Granny Shammy reminded me of my German grandmother, with her similar thick accent and love-filled letters filled with typos and misspellings that make you hear her voice through her carefully penned words. I could completely understand Jon-Jon's willingness to do whatever it took to keep that woman happy.

I was extremely surprised to feel a sense of camaraderie with Jon-Jon. He initially seemed like the complete opposite of me and my personality, but we actually had a lot of the same tics and obsessions growing up. We both assumed every bump, ache, and ailment was a life-threatening disease or some rare form of cancer that would leave us dead within a year. We both were loners who preferred the company of books to that of kids our age (we're just not party people). And it took us a while to figure out what the hell to do with our lives (I think we're both still kind of working on that one too). Oh, and in one of my favorite parts of the book, I would have reacted the exact same way had I just moved to NYC right after reading The Victim's Song. I just would've been freaking the f out and expecting at any moment to get stabbed or shot or raped by crazed men in trench coats with crazed looks in their eyes. I even get scared walking around downtown Little Rock at night because there's the occasional bum and/or hoodlum, so I really doubt I would've made it for as long as JJ did in NY. So overall, even though I don't completely understand the man, I can definitely admire him. Like I said, very interesting.