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Take note: Jen Beagin’s 'Big Swiss' explores the secret life of a sex-therapy transcriptionist

Jen Beagin is the author of "Big Swiss"
Franco Vogt
Jen Beagin is the author of "Big Swiss"

Here’s the seductive premise of Jen Beagin’s new novel, “Big Swiss”:

Greta is a restless middle-aged woman living in a rundown farmhouse in Hudson, N.Y., and she works as a transcriber for the town’s only sex therapist. There. That’s it. Sign me up.

Greta’s job means she’s privy to lots of secrets about the town’s inhabitants. Occasionally, she’ll overhear someone’s voice in the local coffee shop and think, “Ohhh, that’s so-and-so,” and she’ll try not to look too awkward. But when she starts transcribing the sessions of Big Swiss, Greta starts pushing boundaries.
The woman’s name isn’t really Big Swiss. Her name is Flavia. She’s a married gynecologist who survived a brutal assault but doesn’t believe in wallowing in trauma. Greta has her own traumatic history. She becomes slightly and then thoroughly obsessed with Big Swiss, and after a chance meeting at a dog park, the two women begin a relationship.

Beagin’s novel is funny, original, and definitely for mature audiences. And the writing shines, like this description of the bewitching voice in Greta’s ear:

“It was a voice you could snag your sweater on, or perhaps chip one of your teeth, but it was also sweet enough to suck on, to sleep with in your mouth.”

HBO is planning a TV series based on the book, after winning what was reportedly a 14-way bidding war for film rights. No surprise here. “Big Swiss” is bizarre and complicated, and a whole lot of fun.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.