Femme Confidential by Nairne HoltzFemme Confidential by Nairne Holtz is a contemporary literary novel that explores lesbian friendship and what it means to be femme.

It opens in Toronto, 2014, as Liberty gets off the streetcar and is heading home. She runs into her friends’ daughter Sophia, which leads Liberty to reminisce about when she first met and had a fling with Sophia’s mom Veronika.

From there, we learn a lot more about who Liberty and Veronika are, as well as their friend Dana, a trans woman who’s also one of Liberty’s exes. Holtz takes us to different points of the women’s lives, giving us a front row seat to formative experiences like when they discover their sexuality (or in the case of Dana, during parts of her gender journey) and as they meet other partners, both short and long-term.   

The Characters

Femme Confidential is a character-driven novel, so it’s no surprise that the character development goes deep. And while we get to know all three of the women pretty intimately, that’s especially true for Liberty.

Liberty, Veronika, and Dana are not always likeable and that’s something I appreciated because they’re so real. They go through things that are uncomfortable or they make others uncomfortable. Moments like these kept me rapt as I watched all three grow, and these moments are aplenty.

The Writing Style

As I mentioned above, this is a character-driven novel, which means it doesn’t really have a plot. I was 100% into that, however, because it’s been a while since I’ve sunk my teeth into an excellent literary novel that dives so far into the characters. I was a very happy reader!

We shift between Liberty, Veronika and Dana’s perspectives, with Liberty’s presented in the first person and the other two in the third. It’s never confusing and works very well, bringing an extra dose of immediacy to Liberty’s scenes as she serves as the initial point of connection between the three women.

The Pros

I love how crisp the writing is. Nothing is spare and Holtz never meanders.

I also appreciate how she delivered such a raw interrogation of friendship, because it is definitely not all sunshine and roses.

The Cons

These are not cons. I just don’t know where else to put them.

First, a note for readers who aren’t into opposite-sex pairings in sex scenes, there’s a scene from when Veronika is in high school that you might want to skim past. It didn’t bother me because, again, it felt real, but I’m raising it because some readers will want to know.

Second, I’m deliberately not commenting on Dana, her transition, and how she’s portrayed as a trans woman because I can’t adequately do so. I’m not trans and don’t want to speak for that community. Because we see her as a child and first meet her as Liberty’s boyfriend, we do learn the name she went by until she transitioned, and I’m choosing not to share it here because she makes it clear when she comes out that she is Dana and not her deadname. I also want to note that we see Liberty take a little while to sort the change out in her head, but it seemed to take very little time at all.

The Conclusion

Femme Confidential is unlike any other lesbian novel you’ll find out there. It was an excellent way to shake up my usual romance-reading habits and it’s left me thinking in the days since I’ve finished it. If your tastes take a more literary bent or you’re thinking of trying something different, I highly recommend it.

Excerpt from Femme Confidential by Nairne Holtz

The club where Veronika hung out was the Labyrinth, a place on Queen West that catered to all sexual types, but mostly exhibitionists. She’d stand at the edge of the dance floor in her too-big T-shirts and her too-short cut-offs checking out the handful of dykes. If a woman came over with a second drink in hand, she’d instantly huddle up to her gay male friends. She let me get closer, maybe because we liked the same loud, raunchy music. When Jane’s Addiction or Sisters of Mercy came on, we’d collide into each other on the dance floor as though we were in a mosh pit. We’d yell out the chorus of our favourite Pixies song to each other, “Is she weird, is she white, is she promised to the night.” But it could get boring, dancing and waiting for Queen Veronika to pay attention to me. One night, I decided to leave early.

Veronika waved at me with her cigarette, and I came over.

“You’re going?” she asked.

“Uh huh.”

“To another club?”

“Home.” It felt good to say that word.

She reached over and pointlessly or not so pointlessly tucked the bottom of my T-shirt into my black cotton skirt, her knuckles gliding over my stomach.

I looked at her. “Do you like girls?”

She took her hand out of my waistband. “You mean, am I into you?”

There was no point in denying it. “Yes.”

“What do you think?” was her non-answer.

I left. She didn’t really like me, I decided. She just got off on having power over me.

A few days later, I came home from work, and my roommate told me someone had broken into our place.

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