A Form to Fit Identity

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The In-Betweens
By Davon Loeb
193 pages, $14.00
Everytime Press, 2018
Review by Michael Pusic

Davon Loeb’s memoir The In-Betweens (Everytime Press, 2018) pulls us into a childhood lived between poles, and has us look through the intricate and foreign perspective he has grown there. No part of his identity can be understood in isolation; it is all relational, defined by his exclusion from sharp social categories. Loeb is the child of a white father and a black mother — he is seen as black by the outside world, but white by those closest to him. He is Jewish from his father but Christian by his mother. He is straight and male, but does not fit into the tough skin of masculinity. Perhaps, the only fixed, independent part of his being is that of tension between identities, of his existence outside conventional binaries.

An identity forged between categories could not fit into any single genre, and so Loeb doesn’t try to force it; as in life, his work exists between genres. His sentences are far too lyrical, too rhythmic, too much like ice water pulsing through your veins, for them to be considered strictly prose. But 193 pages of left-aligned text doesn’t fit neatly into the category of poetry either. Structurally, the memoir is not quite a set of independent short stories, but nor can it be considered one long unfurling narrative. Loeb shows us his life in flashes: waking up at five in the morning to see his step-father leaving for work; the confusion and complexity, at fourteen-years-old, of helping a girl who drank too much; the memories he could have shared with his father, had he not been abandoned. With lyrical prose, we are pulled into the series of raw experiences that accumulate to form a childhood.

One effect of this episodic structure is that it puts us in the position of trying to piece these individual flashes of a life together into one cohesive narrative. It’s a role I think we all take on for ourselves at some point — piecing together the basic experiences of our lives into a narrative that makes sense to us. The narrative we form constitutes in some important way the foundation of our identity — whether we see ourselves as self-made or privileged, discrete individuals or threads in a web of interrelations. By giving us the unembellished experiences of his childhood and nothing more, Loeb seems to ask: what story can you form from these images?

What makes the raw material of Loeb’s life so interesting is that it’s just so difficult to fit together into any kind of unified whole. All aspects of his identity are in conflict with one another; as soon as one strain begins to grow in the work, it’s diametric sprouts up. When, temporarily exiled from being black by his cousins, Loeb tries to perform whiteness through his hair, his brother asks “what you wanna look like a white boy for?” Loeb writes of working out obsessively, trying to mold his body into a superhuman vision of maleness; but equally describes being called the f-slur by his uncle and wondering if maybe he was, for “I was so much better at drawing and imagining and writing, rather than running and catching and throwing.” He positions himself on the barbed-wire edges of black and white, masculine and feminine, of fences that were built to never be crossed.

To read the work is to find yourself on the edge of this fence with him, teetering from one side to another, and wondering if there is any way out that doesn’t require false allegiance. It’s to try and align diametrically opposed poles, or to try and find solidity in the ground between. Most crucially, it is to feel personally the broader anxiety produced by rigid structures of race and gender that are disciplined upon fluxional bodies. Read this work, understand viscerally the difficulty of existing in-between, and know profoundly how necessary is that space beyond boundaries.




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About Author

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Michael Pusic is an aspiring essayist and working towards his Master’s in Literature at Oxford as a Clarendon Scholar, with a focus in American fiction around the turn of the 20th Century. He is also interested in works that present competing moral ecologies, deal with fraught notions of citizenship, and develop inter-generational narratives. Apart from his studies, he is currently editing the travel diaries of celebrity chef Maria Liberati and enjoys writing poetry in his free time.

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