X by Davey Davis is set for release on June 28 from Catapult. It’s Davis’ second novel. Their first, the earthquake room was published five years ago by TigerBee Press. “Process-wise, X was more structured from the jump. I had less initial insight into what was going to happen in terms of plot, and I did more work to figure that out before writing out most of the scenes. In this way, it was both easier and more difficult to write than the earthquake room, although I believe they both took roughly the same amount of time. You know, now that I think about it, X was more difficult to write because I was more confident that I could do it and more equipped, artistically, so I asked more of myself.”
When discussing the similarities and differences between the two works, Davis said, “I don’t know that it’s immediately obvious, but there’s plenty of thematic overlap between the two books. Both are concerned with the challenges of romantic relationships, dyke relationships, specifically; nature vs. nurture; and quotidian life amidst and inflected by crisis. But whereas the earthquake room is wondering why we hurt the ones we love, X is wondering why we harm them. Is that a strong enough distinction? In my head it is.”
Davis also writes nonfiction, most notably their newsletter, DAVID (itsdavid.substack.com), where they write weekly essays and run a mutual aid fundraiser with their friend, who writes an anonymous advice column for gay people. The process of nonfiction has, in its way, informed much of Davis’ fictional output. “I don’t write fiction casually. In fact, I don’t write it unless I’m writing a novel. Nonfiction, however, I write daily. It’s a great workout. Maybe it prepares a bunch of muscles in isolation, allowing them to work together in concert even more effectively when it’s time to pretend, which is something that I do…not rarely, but sporadically, with intense focus.”
Davey Davis has written a beautiful book. At its core it’s a journey, a searching, a tale of the personal mixed with a warning of the not too distant future. Lee, the narrator of the book, is wise and in Davis’ able hands they are uniquely relatable and utterly original. Lee is introduced to the “seductive and bloodthirsty” X at a warehouse party and seeks her out again only to come up empty. What follows is something of an emotional rollercoaster ride of a chase. Lee navigates a cast of characters, some interesting and others not, through the dungeons and bathrooms of New York City. No matter how much debauchery they get into, Lee manages to keep their razor sharp wit and cunning sense of self about them.
The novel plunges headfirst into sexual fetishes that, in other author’s hands, would come off as cliche or prone to falling prey to little more than shock value but is essential not only to the plot but the character development of the main player’s.
When describing others, Lee reveals more about themselves in the process. Take the following scene in the opening pages.
“Syd is so fucking fake. Ever since I’ve known them they’ve spoken slowly, under the hipster pretense that lethargy is the same thing as intention. They often find ways to bring up the two years they spent sober, even though those two years were five years ago now, and they haven’t gone a day without using since. They think that just because they’ve had EMDR, and gone on a pricy peyote retreat that they’re enlightened, but they’re as authentic as Camille’s nose. Unlike with Camille’s nose, everyone can tell.”
A few pages later, Lee continues to methodically tear down Syd without losing their sense of humor. The juxtaposition is jarring, comedic, and observant all at once.
“Conversations with Syd have always been like this. It’s probably why we’ve never fucked – most people wait until the morning after to get boring. Not Syd. Every exchange happens at half speed, every statement and interjection followed up with a needless pause for confirmation, plus careful posturing to be sure everyone can see their incredible jaw definition. Their fakeness makes my skin crawl. It’s probably the worst possible conversational juncture to pick up my phone, but I want it so bad my fingers flex. There’s nothing worse than being bored, and Syd is as dull as a butt plug.”
What makes the novel hum, though, is the balancing act that Davis takes the reader on as the taut prose weaves the sexy with the terror, the personal with the societal. It’s these dichotomies, these dueling narratives, that give this novel its heartbeat.
While the narrator’s distinct voice is executed seamlessly, the difficulties in writing first person were abundant. “First person was very difficult and I’m looking forward to not doing that for the next novel. There are more constraints than freedoms, in my opinion; I’m not simply conveying an experience, but an experience within an experience, one bound by an additional set of logics and limitations on top of that of the novel and my own as a person.”
A haunting book that explores those on the margins, X, is more a meditation on that which makes us all human: a desire to feel connected. It’s also an examination of the relationship between pain and affection, between the individual and the state. The writing style is hypnotic, alternating between moments of sheer beauty and complete darkness so close together that they blur up against one another to create a substantial gray area that this novel seems to thrive within.
Davis has already started a third novel, tentatively titled Casanova 20: Hot World, “which will hopefully be an opportunity to do something a little different.” They are also looking to publish a book of nonfiction that collects their DAVID essays as well. Think of the book X as a continuation of the writer’s exploration of the human psyche and reader’s everywhere are better off for it.
Patrick Trotti is a writer, editor, and Oxford comma enthusiast. He’s perpetually at work on another novel. He lurks on Twitter @patricktrotti and can be found at patricktrotti.com