Ted Ely

"I haven't yet read much about how two boys can love and hate and abuse each other. Kiss deep while all the while kicking each other in the shins," Joseph Osmundson writes in his plaintive, fragmented, and very dirty mini-memoir Inside/Out.

Sponsored
Sail into the new year in style On the HIYU. We'll bring the bubbly. Get your NYE tickets here!

The book reads more like nonfiction poetry than memoir (some chapters are only five words long, and none are longer than three pages), but it depicts the true story of a poor white guy from Washington State (the narrator) and his obsession with Tariq, a black guy from a middle-class family ("beautiful, tall, easy, charming, stylish") who he dates and fucks and fights with in New York City.

Here's a representative paragraph:

I wouldn't let him fuck me raw again after I found out that he had cheated. He wanted us both to get on Truvada so that he could fuck me without a condom, since I couldn't trust him not to lie, to cheat. I swallowed that massive blue pill for a week, and he did for a month, but then we fought and ended up not fucking at all. And by that point I was tired of being pressured to get fucked raw. And at that point, he was tired of my moralizing and talking all the time. At that point, no pill could bring us back.

I agree with the narrator—rarely have I read books about relationships like this one. But its form is familiar. As Alexander Chee says in a blurb on the back, "Inside/Out is like if Maggie Nelson had written Bluets about fucking men." Not only is the book a structural homage to Bluets, Nelson is one of the many artists referenced (reverenced, really) in the text, along with Diana Ross, Paul Monette, Anne Carson, Wayne Koestenbaum, and Susan Sontag.

At times, it feels like the book is straining to have something to say. "Abuse" is a big word for mismatched sexual desires; the narrator wants monogamy, the other guy doesn't, and "abuse" is the author's go-to word for describing this dynamic. (You could say he almost abuses it.) This exaggeration has an earnest, millennial, personal-truth quality to it, though the relationship does have its poignant paradoxes: "He couldn't see me, this boy who took his dick and sometimes others, as someone whom he also loved and cared for," the narrator writes. "He needed both, and knew they couldn't both exist in one person, not for him."

There are also Grindr chats, "redacted" images (with footnotes describing what you would be able to see if you could see the image), confessional gross-outs (a rimming scene gone wrong), and other evocative traces of the digital present. Tariq, for instance, has a Spotify playlist for fucking, and a taste for the narrator's chipotle/maple butternut squash. Not to worry, the recipe is included. That might be the gayest thing in the book.