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The unifying trope to this experimental memoir can be found in the title, Inside/Out, through which Joseph Osmundson frames a life lived on the outside, looking in. A childhood anecdote of bullying and rejection—Osmundson comes from poor, rural, white America—serves as the initial focal point. We move quickly from there to the main conflict of the memoir through which Osmundson conveys with keen insight the alienation that accompanies psychological and emotional abuse at the hands of one’s lover.
Osmundson recounts with longing and in dialectical manner his desire to be “inside” with his then lover, only eventually to turn the tables entirely, deploying the memoir itself as a means of pushing his now former lover permanently to the outside.
Osmundson writes to recover from the psychologically abusive relationship. His lover is presented as a queer cad, a Grindr-trolling Casanova, who, incapable of empathy and lacking integrity, repeatedly cheats on Osmundson, lies to him, and treats him like an actor in a pornographic film, directing every aspect of their sex with exacting, objectifying precision.
Throughout the book, Osmundson invites us into the disorienting and disturbing autopsy of his relationship. Notably, we’re never told his lover’s true name whom Osmundson variously calls Tariq, Kaliq, and, the closest we’re allowed to his real name, F—–.
At one level, Osmundson engages the world as a fiction, reserving the roles of author, redactor, and protagonist for himself:
I changed his name in my phone to Tariq to remind myself that I was nothing more than one of his tricks… Sometimes, when I imagined that we might get back together, when I wanted to think him more than the sex that he still occasionally gave to me, I changed his name in my phone to Kaliq. To remind myself that he was a fiction I had written. And that I could erase.
What could be more telling of a dysfunctional relationship? Osmundson’s black lover portrayed as fiction whose very name could be changed at whim.
For Osmundson, F—– is the imagined and the unknowable, the unrelenting and the driving motivation for this unconventional, revealing piece of writing. Although F—-‘s beauty, class standing, and his lasting impact on Osmundson are revealed to us, F—– is nevertheless a haunting absence, ubiquitous but known to the reader only through mediated, fictional, redacted shards; known only in absence. We’re left with the impression that this is how Osmundson knows him, too.
Through F—–‘s absence from the memoir we can excavate the motivations of Osmundson as protagonist. Osmundson’s representation of F—– highlights the author’s (misplaced, queer, objectifying, and ultimately rejected) ideation of the ideal man, or at least the ideal lover. F—- is, in essence, deployed in the memoir not for who he is, but for what he represents to the protagonists and, as a result, for what he reveals about the protagonist.
There’s cruelty and candor, fear and longing, and abuse throughout the pages of Inside/Out. You’ll find mistakes and emotional harm in abundance. You’ll find shattered trust and lovers utterly unworthy of each other’s trust. You’ll find ethical positioning shrouded by dubious motives. You’ll find moves and counter-moves, the likes of which couldn’t possibly have a place in any mutually uplifting relationship.
But here’s the thing. Joseph Osmundson’s memoir is only a start, a beginning. In it, we are invited to watch him tease out and unmask the various layers of deception impacting his life. I’m hopeful that Osmundson will continue to grow and heal so that, when next we read his name in print–and I look forward reading whatever comes next for him–we are taken someplace new, someplace inside.
by Joseph Osmundson
Sibling Rivalry Press
Paperback, 9871943977444, 102 pp.