So many people are often on the verge of full collapse. A handful of or even just one missing check can throw things in limbo; stress skyrockets, credit plummets if there in the first place, favors have to be asked if they’re available—it can be the end of a sustainable way of living. Most people work four to six days a week or have something else figured out to keep away chaotic modes of existence. Jumping into survival mode can be especially hard for recent or current college students without prospects, lives lived on loans till harshly transitioning to the contemporarily absurd cost of living. Instead of seeking employment, V, the protagonist of Alexandrine Ogundimu’s Agitation—published in a saddle-stitched edition from Amphetamine Sulfate—confronts an impending breakdown happening in their shell of a life.
A post-MFA listlessness accompanied by depression and self-hate brings V back to the familiar Midwestern city of Bloomington, Indiana, where he’s on the brink, credit cards run up and stretched thin. Alcoholism, porn addiction, suicidal tendencies, complete lack of work skills, and the romanticized idea of a career as a literary artist form a generally irregular life schedule that keeps him unemployed. Many (if not most/all) of V’s bills are unpaid and dramatically overdue. The walls are closing in on a narrative that unfolds in an ever-spiraling internal monologue, listing the interrelated reasons of how and why things have reached such a jammed-up, trapped circumstance. At times these harmful aspects are praised, or at least justified in their manifold discomforts. Regular and calculated cycles of severe alcoholism are enumerated as they fix V into a cycle of self-pity and inactivity:
… V was convinced he would complete suicide if forced back into the retail world, which was the only work he had any experience in and thus the only kind he would be qualified for ….
A formerly university paid-for lifestyle has kept him unconcerned with having to exist as a worker well into his 20s. V’s work history is vague with references made to irregularly written articles/blog posts for small sums, and a stint as a Walmart worker. Chances are harder to come by in the contemporary moment of Agitation, and a weak resume leaves only unsustainable options. The situation is very plausible … I’ve heard this story dozens of times from people I know or know of in the world, and most of them are forced to move back to their family’s home.
While there presumably is a somewhat local family home for V to go back to, there’s this sense that it is a psychically damaging environment. Specifically V’s abusive and intensely homophobic father that he gruesomely fantasizes of beating to death. The mother is fine, just concerned and kept at arm’s length—V doesn’t communicate with either of them regularly, as there’s nothing to say from his despondent stagnation, his alienation. V is mixed race and it’s interesting how little Ogundimu has chosen to factor this into the text, considering the customary racial alienation of non-whites in the Heartland of the U.S. Indianapolis is offhandedly described as “a place that just felt racist.” From one perspective, it’s completely understandable to not want to make race such a plot point, but there’s a chance it’s an unspoken factor in the difficult and unbearable aspects of existing in these settings.
More on alienation: V details his sexuality in an evolving set of contradictions that show him to be closeted in this way that is more self-hating than hidden from the public. He’s not out to his parents, or other nameless figures in the book, but he suspects everyone’s aware of his queerness. Pretty early into the novella we’re brought into experiments in crossdressing at home, dissecting V’s journey to understanding transness, his fascinated but admittedly objectifying relation to trans women as a masculine, closeted bisexual. There are these two sections on narratives of transness in the U.S. that are pretty removed from the rest of the book, but make sense if you contextualize them after reading the whole thing. Memories are mined pretty deep, showing V’s sexual evolution and self-perception as it changes through consumption of various types of porn and real world experiences. The scenarios depicted demonstrate how awkward it can be trying to learn how to interact with othered people via info from the internet. He drunkenly alienates himself from queer people, left in the company of straight men he lusts for, like Ridley.
Ridley is V’s lone way out from the Midwestern life crumbling around him. The plot’s main action hinges on the friend coming through with a new life opportunity. Their MFA-based friendship is loaded with one-sided erotic tension. They mutually want to “make it” as writers and cheer each other on in (unmade?) progress that goes largely unmentioned. Like many other procrastinated aspects of the book, Ridley is in the dark about V’s dire condition and depression. The state of inactivity reaches this point beyond pity, and he himself knows it. He’s like that friend trapped by circumstance that can’t bring himself to do anything but talk about it and bum others out, furthering alienation. Instead of this, V opts for silence.
The prose slightly bothered me with its incessant run-ons connected by a series of ands. While I was a bit dismayed with how flat Agitation read at first, the details were intriguing enough to push through the development of an awkward, stilted rhythm that gradually found its footing to fit the discomfort. The barrage gives the text an addictive quality that encourages reading it whole in one sitting.
Alexandrine Ogundimu makes a good show of self-repression and unease in the oppressive potentialities of interpersonal relationships and systemic barriers. This book is an anxiety attack of self-pitying hopelessness that any of us could fall victim to at any point. You can finish it and just think that V is pathetic, or you can acknowledge this is an extreme extension of the scenarios millions of people are having to fight way too hard to avoid at this point in time. It shouldn’t be plausible, but it is.
Agitation, by Alexandrine Ogundimu. Amphetamine Sulphate, January 2022. 52 pages. $12.00, stapled booklet.
Corey Qureshi is a writer, musician, and parent based in Philadelphia. Their work has been featured in Rejection Letters, the tiny, and Occulum, among many other print and digital publications. They work as a baker. Find them online @q_boxo.