Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life, resembles [Alexander] Chee’s in its resistance to prescriptive instruction and the authoritative pedagogical impulse in favor of sketching edges and contours of what it means both to write and to be ... This is a woozy writing crafted in cycles and slippages, in repetition with minor variances. It is, well, life, and the body, repeating, repeating, repeating, like breath and blood, at once inexorably the same and ineffably different. As readers of this writing, then, we do not learn a craft so much as gather and sense, sift and glean, becoming aware through accretion, collection, absorption, rereading. We are not told how to write in clear terms; instead, we are shown what writing actually feels like and what words can be made to do.
The book's ... nineteen essays...aren’t quite this or that; most are misfit pieces Boully couldn’t fit into her projects over the last two decades. Together, they coexist to spin a web of knives, witchcraft, magnetic poetry, monarch butterflies, love affairs, heartbreak, death, and discussions of Boully’s writing craft. But to call this a book of craft is to do it disservice. Boully doesn’t give you tips to better yourself as a writer. Instead, she discusses her own writing life ... By sharing the vulnerabilities of her own craft, it’s as if Boully gives writers forgiveness for theirs. The magic of Betwixt is not prescriptive, but subjective; Boully splays open her own torso and readers divine what they need to from the spill of her organs ... By sharing these personal experience, the point Boully seems to be making is that the writing life is not just about putting words on a page, but observing, daydreaming, and feeling.
Boully is an author who often takes bold formal steps: Her first book, The Body: An Essay is made up entirely of footnotes to an absent text. In her preface to this collection, Boully explains that the essays contained within span her career to date — that they, in her words, 'began to appear when I began to write truly as a writer.' ... What emerges from the cumulative experience of reading them, then, is a glimpse inside a singular authorial voice, and the way that life experiences and a literary aesthetic are intertwined. The overall effect is hypnotic. Throughout Betwixt and Between, she uses unexpected juxtapositions to achieve a powerful effect. Several of the essays within feature self-consciously sprawling titles: The Art of Fiction and How to Write on Grand Themes are two examples. Both essays eschew rote advice on craft and instead delve into the idiosyncrasies of Boully’s own life experiences — and, in doing so, neatly leap over the oft debated argument over the personal vs. the universal ... For all that Boully can write in a heady register, she also incorporates familiar questions in these essays: Family, identity and desire all occupy plenty of space within the text ... Betwixt-and-Between is living proof of that: It’s not only a powerful demonstration of writing as life, but of the ways that lived experiences can illuminate and transform writing.