An Unthinkable Existence: David Levithan’s “Every Day”

13262783In writing, love is cruel. It is stitched together with “yeses” and “nos” and is built from the bottom up with pieces that cannot not synchronize; that is, with bits that refuse to fit to form.

What is a love story without a struggle, after all?

There has never been anything quite like the struggle in David Levithan’s “Every Day.” It is a story that forces us all to consider what love really is and how we as human beings are truly capable of loving in the most basic, unconditional way.  That is what love must be for A, the unnamed protagonist.

A has no gender, no sex, no body.  A is a soul that flits from one body to the next, inhabiting the form of a new human-being his own age every 24 hours. This is not a metaphor. His wanderings are limited to the nearest towns within a tri-state area, changing when his host is forced to cross state lines. He cannot stop the switch, the process that rips him from every fiber of his host at midnight– a Cinderella curse– and to resist is unparalleled pain. His only chance to escape the pain is reach sleep before that fateful moment.

Every day for A is the ceaseless mission to blend in and acclimate to a new life, a new body and go undetected for a full day. He struggles to seem as much as possible like the individual of whose body he has taken control. To leave as little impact on his host’s life as might be left by a transient soul. Until he wakes up in the body of sixteen year old Justin. Everything changes, of course. Within Justin, A can see every thing the boy fails to recognize in his girlfriend, Rhiannon:  a quiet prettiness watered down by Justin’s negativity and negligence, an “unnecessary sadness” and a hope, one that is so often held by girls who don’t want to let go of the good, and in doing so too often spare the bad. A falls for Rhiannon and in the space of  a moment makes the decision to change his plan for life.

” ‘Where do you want to go?’ I ask again. ‘Tell me, truly, where you’d love to go.’

I don’t initially realize how much hinges on her answer. If she says, Let’s go to the mall, I will disconnect. If she says, Take me back to your house, I will disconnect. If she says, Actually, I don’t want to miss sixth period, I will disconnect. And I should disconnect. I should not be doing this. But she says, ‘I want to go to the ocean. I want you to take me to the ocean.’ And I feel myself connecting.”

His daily goal–once simply to pass in the skin of another–becomes a race to contact Rhiannon and be with her before the end of the day, though this task is far more complicated than simply the physical task of putting A’s host body within touching distance of Rhiannon. Depending on what body A awakens inside, it could take A as little as 15 minutes or as long as seven hours to reach her, and without a permanent self, A has no phone; the two must rely on email to communicate.  But once together, A’s struggle is two-fold: A must convince her that he is the same soul within a perpetually amorphous exterior, and prove to her that they are capable of being together despite A’s nature.

Levithan’s premise evokes not only an original take on the traditional love conflict, but also brings about questions of identity as well. Through the daily scenes of A’s life, each morning as A relearns his body and environment, Levithan reminds the reader something we as humans all too often forget about ourselves, something we take completely for granted. Our bodies are an inherent part of our identity, as we are told. Gender is based on our sex, or the sex we perceive, we shape our attitudes and beliefs based on our gender and our position within society, and how others treat us is partially dependent on how we look, our gender and sexuality, how we hold ourselves and our general attitudes towards our bodies.

A doesn’t have his own body. He has no gender and his sexuality is neutral because he has no preference one way or the other. And though the voice with which A speaks is distinct enough, Aitis colorless. There is a shadow of struggle in how Leviathan builds A’s voice, a thickness that might be expected from the attempt to portray so seemingly transient a character.

“I am a drifter, and as lonely as that can be, it is also remarkably freeing. I will never define myself in terms of anyone else. I will never feel the pressure of peers or the burden of parental expectation. I can view everyone as pieces of a whole, and focus on the whole, not the pieces. I have learned to observe, far better than most people observe. I am not blinded by the past or motivated by the future. I focus on the present because that is where I am destined to live.”

A’s experiences have no length or depth, as all of his experiences must last only a day, and as one might expect, he also then has few described inclinations. Rather, A has a collection of perceptions based on the way his thousands of past hosts have enjoyed and personally experienced different sensations, for example, the individual differences in how three people might perceive the flavor of a strawberry based on their biological make up. A has no biology, and he has no choice but to base his preference for strawberries via his hosts.

Levithan boasts another message, implied heavily through the side stories strewn throughout: the dominance of the body over the soul, when the body’s needs outweigh and overcome the will of the individual inside. As A experiences the physical situations of a drug addict, unnamed and ruled by the chemical need exuded by the body, A struggles and suffers, fighting the body he has been forced to settle in and refusing to leave the host’s bedroom for fear of giving in to the body’s will. A experiences the situation of a girl struggling with depression and a desire for suicide, a haunting aura that drags on the host’s body.

Though these side stories are brief and generally give nothing to A’s goal of winning over Rhiannon, they speak for A’s character and how he understands the people he resides within. A is aware of the complexity of life in ways that one being in one body over the course of a lifetime can never understand completely. But the trade off for a life like A’s is cruel–A can never be in the same body for longer than one day; he cannot spend a night with the girl he loves and wake up next to her; he will never enjoy a marriage with children of his own or own a home or a career of his own making. And for A, something as intimate as sex, something too intimate to share with a host body, will never be added to his experiences.

As A pleads with Rhiannon to consider a new way of life, a relationship without Justin, he asks her to give up a chance at a normal life, one for which she is biologically suited and for which A is not; he is asking her to look beyond not just a trial of distance, but the small horror of never actually knowing what your partner looks like.

Can we as humans be that unconditional in our love? How does one love as A asks Rhiannon to love him?

“People take love’s continuity for granted, just as they take their body’s continuity for granted. They don’t realize that the best thing about love is its regular presence. Once you can establish that, it’s an added foundation to your life.”

A’s desperation to finally experience love drives him to abandon his original method of subsistance: instead of focusing on the needs of the host, A steals each body for the day, if possible taking the most available vehicle and traveling whatever distance necessary to get to Rhiannon. In doing so, A gives up his anonymity, inspiring a secondary conflict that follows him through the length of his story. After failing to get his host safely to bed one night after hijacking his body to see Rhiannon at a party nearly two hours away, his host for the day, Nathan, becomes suspicious and alerts the media and whoever will listen that demonic possession is a real threat.

A is alarmed. He is unnatural but he is not evil: a fact he attempts to convince Nathan of over the course of several chapters. A reconsiders himself, reconsiders his identity throughout Nathan’s attacks. How can someone with neutral intentions be evil? But Nathan introduces A to a new possibility, a chilling but tempting chance to break the possession cycle, If A were willing to take the chance, there are those out there who would be willing to show A how to stay in the same body permanently–for as long as he wished–a possibility akin to murder. To take over the space that should be possessed by another soul, home to someone else, to whom the body rightfully belongs. It is what A has perhaps always desired, more so in light of his love for Rhiannon, but to take the body of another permanently would be self-lowering to the level of evil Nathan accuses of A at the start.

“Self-preservation isn’t worth it if you can’t live with the self you’re preserving”

Levithan’s account of a literally wandering soul raises not only the question of a perfectly unconditional love, but the problem of ascribing identity, of self-knowledge, and how far one is willing to go in order to possess oneself fully and achieve a basic human life, and more, a love within that life. A can never have what the rest of us have, and to seek what once could rightfully have been his isn’t an option. Levithan rolls swiftly and deftly through A’s encounters, each day passing in a blur of desperation. His language, though neither dense nor airy, is clear enough for the voice of a running spirit and the action is fast-paced, a riveting adventure for the psychologically curious.

Leviathan, David. Everyday. Random House, New York: 2012. Print.

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