The Saturday Rumpus Essay: The Real Evan

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Character whose name is Evan. Not the real Evan, but sharing some of the real Evan’s qualities, some of the real Evan’s failings.

Character Evan may run through the neighborhood in the evenings while maintaining 75 percent MHR for at least sixty minutes before heading back home. His calves are sinewy, his glutes are clearly distinguishable from his hamstrings, his trapezii are truly trapezoidal. Dense and evenly distributed hair stubble covers the lower half of character Evan’s face. When he takes off his shirt in public, it need not be compulsory for character Evan’s cheeks to blush. “Purposive” and “confident” are accurate descriptors of character Evan’s running stride. As per real Evan, character Evan wears New Balance sneakers—but the latter always remembers to double-knot. Character Evan appreciates the importance of maintaining pulmonary health—he doesn’t chain-smoke cigarettes or suck on his nicotine vaporizer thing all the livelong day—because he has no intention of dying prematurely due to COPD.

Character Evan fulfills his myriad domestic obligations “resignedly.” On Wednesday nights, for example, upon being commanded to pull the garbage bin up the steep drive, character Evan may indeed grumble, but only at first, and only momentarily. When he arrives at the street and peers up into the starry black depths overhead, character Evan will not perceive a vertiginous sinking feeling in his abdomen consequent to a perception of his personal existence’s triviality in relation to imminent universal heat death, and he will not proceed to walk back down the drive in a state of utter dejection, using one of his hands to shield the sight of the stars from his eyes, in the manner of real Evan. No, character Evan is still up there at the top of the drive, already halfway through five sets of reverse lunges.

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As per real Evan, character Evan announces the completion of his garbage-night duties upon returning to the living room. He positions the throw pillows to his liking, backflops onto the couch, unpauses ESPN. Does character Evan drink beer? Not on weekdays. It may be that on weekends character Evan limits himself to a single six-pack of, in real Evan’s words, “that pisslike, fifty-five-calorie Budweiser shit.”

There exists a discernible horizon about character Evan’s daily capacity for passive-aggressive behavior. Frequent intimations of character Evan’s virility may serve to foil references to PAB; for example, character Evan may, throughout the day, employ various passive-aggressive stratagems in order to guilt his wife, character Carmen, into recognizing how very aggrieved he feels about the necessity of fulfilling one or more of his domestic obligations, but at night, after their character kids are in bed, character Evan compensates for his daily quota of PAB by making love to character Carmen with “patience,” “generosity,” “acumen.” Although character Carmen may still begrudge character Evan his frequent bouts of PAB, she cannot help but concede that his talent in the sack—“a real form of genius,” she once called it, in dialogue with her friend, character Jack—may stand as somewhat compensatory. Whereas real Evan intuits that his sexuality is founded upon the daily concurrence of excessive masturbation and foreplay aversion, character Evan knows that his sexuality is best understood in relation to the swiftness with which he brings character Carmen to orgasm. While it may be the case that years ago the real Evan went on an online shopping spree when the real Carmen was out of town, purchasing all manner of adult toys meant to please her sexually, this “sorry bag of dicks,” as the real Carmen now refers it, is presently collecting dust on the top shelf of their real bedroom closet.

Character Evan’s kids may attend Dartmouth and Yale, whereas real Evan’s kids will attend highly ranked state schools.

Both Evans are good—“committed,” “loving,” “selfless”—fathers. Both are “great dads,” “beloved fathers,” “who will be sorely missed.”

Character Evan often purchases overpriced power tools at Home Depot, but, unlike real Evan, he actually puts those tools to use. Character Evan once spent money irresponsibly—now he has a budget. Occasionally character Evan might deploy PAB with respect to the family budget, in dialogue with character Carmen, thus: “I sure wish I could order a ton of books off Amazon like you do, but, sadly, that’s just not in the family budget.” This in contrast to real Evan, who, while often professing the necessity of the family budget, and while claiming to adhere to it strictly, still continues to spend irresponsibly on Amazon, as he has an arrangement with the UPS driver regarding clandestine package placement by which deliveries remain out of real Carmen’s sight, in a secret spot behind the hedges, over by the real garage.

Character Evan: drywall project completed. Real Evan: huge gaps in ceiling through which you can see all the way to the roof.

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Character Evan diligently carves out time to spend with friends. Although character Evan may become nauseated whenever character Carmen announces that she’s RSVP’d for a social engagement where a bunch of people will be present, he nonetheless attends these gatherings with something resembling a smile on his face, and he rarely if ever sneers in a manner that might be observable to the others, and, when he becomes especially eager to leave the party, he refrains from sneaking up behind character Carmen to maliciously snap her bra strap.

Upon arriving back home, character Evan nonchalantly checks his Twitter mentions, whereas real Evan frantically types his name, followed by an endless sequence of variations on its spelling, into the search field at google.com.

Generally, when character Evan looks in the mirror, his face is relaxed. Not so with real Evan, whose face seizes up as it attempts to conform to an image more closely aligned with his projected ideal. Without conscious intent, real Evan pouts into the mirror so to accentuate the fullness of his lips, the height of his cheekbones—real Evan dons his duckface. Were character Evan standing in the bathroom beside real, duckfaced Evan, the former would guffaw, reference the film Zoolander, proceed to unceremoniously bitch slap the real Evan. Who spends more time standing in front of the mirror, real Evan or character Evan? Surprisingly, the answer is character Evan. When leaning forward to scrutinize the network of spidery capillaries on his sclera, or the fathomless pores on his cheeks, or that gross stalactitic hanging thing at the rear of his palate, character Evan’s sudden recognition of his body’s materiality doesn’t freak him out such to occasion a hasty decampment from the bathroom—he simply leans back and takes a deep breath—whereas real Evan is already down the hallway, cowering under the bedcovers, asking himself, “What would character Evan do?”

Character Evan: up at six. Real Evan: hits snooze until real Carmen starts kicking. Character Evan: electronic music, dancing. Real Evan: Nietzsche audiobooks, self-loathing. Character Evan: chest hair. Real Evan: nipple hair.

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Is character Evan a writer? Indeed, he’s a highly lauded novelist whose books are published by FSG, Norton, and Viking, every last one of which has received glowing write-ups in New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Bookforum, and other formidable book-review outlets. Real Evan’s “formally innovative” novels, on the other hand—“ROFL!” interjects character Evan—are published by obscure mom-and-pop operations with no money available for marketing, advance review copies, French flaps, etc. Character Evan has been a two-time finalist for a national book prize, whereas real Evan has been a two-time finalist for Black Warrior Review’s annual short story contest. Character Evan has no compunction about “practicing shameless self-promotion,” about “posturing as a tireless literary citizen on social media,” in contrast to real Evan, who won’t stop employing these same phrases contemptuously in conversation with the real Carmen.

Character Evan is pretty impressive; real Evan, not so much—can it be as simple as that? But which are those qualities about real Evan that escape character Evan’s foil? Does being such a selfish egomaniac actually imbue real Evan with insight about the true nature of existence, actually provide him with some vital understanding of life as it actually lived, as it is actually suffered, affording him real insight that may be completely lost on character Evan? Is real Evan’s thoroughgoing cowardice somehow useful, does it somehow give way to a perception of life’s preciousness, life’s beauty? At the center of his identity’s—real Evan’s—totally narcissistic definition, is there a “kernel of humanity,” something felt to be lacking among character Evan’s “cloying joi de vivre,” among character Evan’s “broad-shouldered,” “healthy-lunged,” “multiple-orgasm-inducing,” “commercially successful” bearing?

No. Character Evan is unquestionably the better Evan, in every last respect. There is nothing at all redeeming about the real Evan’s fears and failures—just ask the real Carmen. It may be real Evan’s greatest fear that in his daily efforts to continue convincingly portraying himself as something more closely resembling character Evan, the real Carmen and the real kids and all the real people at all the real boring parties may come to like or love him solely on that account. More than “bankruptcy,” “impotence,” “COPD,” “literary obscurity,” even “death,” what the real Evan fears most may be this: “himself.”

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Photographs provided courtesy of author.


Evan Lavender-Smith is the author of From Old Notebooks (Dzanc Books) and Avatar (Six Gallery Press). His writing has recently been published by BOMB, Denver Quarterly, Harvard Review, Hobart and others. He is the founding editor of Noemi Press, the editor-in-chief of Puerto del Sol, and an assistant professor in the MFA program at New Mexico State University. Visit him at www.el-s.net. More from this author →