A Memoir of Identity and Other Illusions

Penny Guisinger

American Lives Series

190 pages


March 2024


$22.95 Pre-order

About the Book

Penny Guisinger was not always attracted to women. In Shift she recounts formative relationships with women and men, including the marriage that produced her two children and ultimately ended in part due to her affair with her now-wife. Beginning her story as straight and ending as queer, she struggles to make sense of how her identity changed so profoundly while leaving her feeling like the same person she’s always been. While covering pivotal periods of her life, including previous relationships and raising her children across the chasm of divorce, Guisinger reaches for quantum physics, music theory, planetary harmonics, palmistry, and more to interrogate her experiences. This personal story plays out against the backdrop of the national debate on same-sex marriage, in rural, easternmost Maine, where Guisinger watched her neighbors vote against the validity of her family.

Shift examines sexual and romantic fluidity while wrestling with the ways past and present mingle rather than staying in linear narratives. Under scrutiny, Guisinger’s sense of her own identity becomes like a Mobius strip or Penrose triangle—an optical illusion that challenges the dimensions and possibilities of the world.

Author Bio

Penny Guisinger is the author of Postcards from Here. Her work has appeared in Fourth Genre, Guernica, River Teeth, The Rumpus, and Solstice Literary Magazine and has won numerous honors, including three notable designations from Best American Essays, a Maine Literary Award, and a Pushcart Prize nomination. She lives at the easternmost tip of Maine with her wife, two teenagers, and a slowly increasing number of dogs.


“Memoir may be the story of the self in time, but in this engaging, surprising book Penny Guisinger sidesteps the obvious and employs a host of unexpected ideas . . . to examine a lifetime’s progress toward genuine love and an authentic life. The result is a terrific contribution to queer literature and a wonderfully fresh, irresistible delight.”—Mark Doty, National Book Award winner and author of Heaven’s Coast

“The specificity of this memoir—its depth, its nuance, its balance, and its story—grips you and doesn’t let go. I loved every word. Penny writes with such grace and honesty and love that you too won’t want this book to leave your bookshelf, let alone your hands. Shift is a stunningly powerful memoir.”—Morgan Talty, best-selling author of Night of the Living Rez

“Guisinger’s honesty had me from the get-go. Read it, fall in love as I did, learn something you may not yet know. Did I mention Penny Guisinger is also very funny? She is also very funny.”—Abigail Thomas, author of Still Life at Eighty: The Next Interesting Thing

“What I love most about this smart, edgy memoir is how it celebrates love, in all its permutations, how in it, who we love and how are more important than what we are called, than what we call ourselves. It imagines a world which accepts that to be human is to shift, where a foreshortened marriage is not a failure but a limited success, where it is possible to find safety, self, a path through our altering personal geometries to a place where we can love intelligently, with candor and without masks.”—Pam Houston, author of Deep Creek: Finding Hope in The High Country

“Each sentence in this book is a delightful jewel, and the sum of these sentences asks, ‘What is time? Am I the selves I was, who I pretended to be, and the selves that have grown into the present?’ Guisinger tracks love and days as they wink and flitter within and beyond timelines and roles, creating a breathtaking quantum nonfiction portrait.”—Sonya Huber, author of Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System

“I read Shift with my heart in my throat. It’s both the most romantic book I’ve encountered in ages and a clear-eyed dissection of romance’s consequences when falling in love means reinventing not just a life, but a self. This urgent, wry, deeply reflective book will be with me for a long time.”—Kristi Coulter, author of Nothing Good Can Come from This

Shift is the story of hard-won love, told with an honesty that includes heartbroken children, sexual euphoria, and the crooked road toward remaking a family.”—Monica Wood, author of When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine

“In Shift Penny Guisinger takes us on a lyrical journey to self. And it’s a beautiful story: a young teen groping for identity—a queer identity—grows into a self-possessed, independent woman negotiating family and friendship, career and romance, mind-work and hard physical work. By turns harrowing, hilarious, erotic, wise, and calm, honest and cagey, poetic and profound, Shift is a joy to read, and Penny Guisinger a delightful storyteller and thinker. Don’t start the book late at night, you’ll get less sleep than Penny during a first lesbian encounter: Yes, those are birds singing, and we’ve spent the night in bliss.”—Bill Roorbach, author of Summers with Juliet, Lucky Turtle, and Beep

“Using the poetics of mathematics as her touchstone, Penny Guisinger has woven a captivating tale of love and desire, harmony and dissonance, fracture and repair. This book is a window into a critical point in queer history, when gay marriage was legal in some states but not yet all, a story told by a woman who did not discover she was gay until several years after she was a mother married to a man. Read this book. It’s like nothing you’ve ever read before.”—Jennifer Lunden, author of American Breakdown

“As with a walk along the lengths and curves of a Möbius strip, Penny Guisinger didn’t complete the path of this story the same person she was at the start. Nor will you.”—Suzanne Strempk Shea, author of Sundays in America: A Yearlong Road Trip in Search of Christian Faith

Table of Contents

Author’s Note
Shift and Back Up
Part 1
Imperfect Rings
We Were Just Rehearsing
Bonking into Each Other in the Dark
Before There Was a Woman
I Was a Good Girlfriend
After Tall Probably Gay Steve, Third Steve I Didn’t Love Back, and a Marc
We Are All at the Edge
Provincetown I
Not Not a Tenant
Untying the Knot
Part 2
The Love Poetry of Food
Closer to Fine
Things You Don’t Know
Pulling Out the Stops
Gay Parties
Harmony of the Spheres
Quantum Music
Tonal Regions
Rose Garden
The Encyclopedia of Good Mothers
Please Don’t Notice Me
Earth, Wind, and Fire
Why We Got Divorced
Coming Out
Pink Capos at the Lobster Party
Provincetown II
The Largest Canyon on Earth
Is This Parenting?
Part 3
Tight Margins and Powerful Strangers
Across the Bridge
I Dreamed I Was at the Funeral of an Activist
Squaring the Circle
Impossible Objects

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