István to Steven to Stefánie

Susan Faludi’s memoir reveals the deep complexity of her father’s many identities.

"I’ve got some interesting news for you,” the e-mail began. “I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside.” At­tached were photos of the sender sporting wigs, ruffles, and high-heeled sandals. And that was how Steven Faludi, aged 76, announced to his long-estranged daughter that he had become Stefánie.

As it happens, Stefánie’s daughter and the teller of his tale is Susan Faludi, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and prominent feminist author (Backlash, 1991; Stiffed, 1999) who has said she is “all for smashing the gender binary.” A transsexual parent who wants to be referred to as both father and she? No problem. But a newly minted stereotypical woman who flutters and flirts, feigns helplessness, and loves pearls? Oh dear.

Susan’s reaction to Steven’s transition into Stefánie could be the set-up for a comic novel. It’s already the focus of dozens of reviews and interviews. No wonder: it’s the kind of story that compels most of us to take a second look, whether from prurience, empathy, or curiosity. And yet this book is much more than an account of Stefánie’s late-life sexual metamorphosis.