- No Home for You Here: A Memoir of Class and Culture by Adam Theron-Lee Rensch
Adam Theron-Lee Rensch’s No Home for You Here: A Memoir of Class and Culture is a powerful account of economic and political inequity from the Reagan years to the present, through the author’s lived experience growing up working poor in Findlay, Ohio. Rensch’s political autobiography combines memoir, journalism, commentary, and skillful social history and critique into a narrative that richly teases out the difficulties of class and culture that have confounded the sociopolitical landscape since the much-mythologized Reagan years.
A millennial, born during Reagan’s utopic Neoliberalism regime and growing up and coming-of-age through the Bush, Clinton, and Obama years, Rensch locates in Reagan a worldview that “endures in the way we think about politics today. It dramatically limits what many imagine is possible, including so-called ‘progressive democrats’ that function as gatekeepers preventing a truly class-based politics” (166). This frustration with the failure to realize class-based solidarity is a recurring concern for Rensch, and his sharp critique of the ways in which culture and class are confused, or rather, the ways in which the former muddies the latter in politics on the Right and on the Left, is worth unpacking. Delineating the Political Left’s struggle with the Cultural Left’s insistence on identity over an “essentialist” redistributive model grounded in labor, Rensch sees such tensions as “red-baiting” that shift focus away from resisting “the true cause of suffering—a profit hungry society, its state institutions, and its policies of austerity and violence” (149). He explains that the “culture wars” that have become a kind of default narratology for the [End Page 99] political divide, “have inadvertently (or not) become a way to rationalize and naturalize class war,” and such normalizations obscure the fictions of meritocracy on which our economic and political structures are based—structures that set up so many to fail (162).
This is smart political critique, and while Rensch admits he can offer no real solutions to these enormous challenges, his awareness of the traps of the ideology of meritocracy provides a compelling frame for organizing his experiences of growing up working class in Findlay, his investment in the promise of cultural capital offered in New York, and the elitism of Sarah Lawrence College. It’s a venture that ultimately fails in erasing his rural working-class roots, one that only contributes to his sense of precariousness as he becomes another victim of the debt economy of higher education and much vaunted “knowledge economy.” Like so many working-class intellectuals, he straddles “an imagined divide,” between his rural roots and “the ivory tower of academia” with no real sense of belonging or promise in either the world he has left or the world in which he has landed.
Intertwined with his story is that of his father—a writer, a once-political radical turned dispirited alcoholic—a man whose fits, starts, and tragic end anchor Rensch’s extensive social history of inequity, downward mobility, and disenfranchisement. While his father is one of the vast swath of Americans failed by the promise of “bootstraps” capitalism, he is also a man who consistently questions it—he is no caricature of the nostalgic “white working-class” male. His father’s troubled life and ignoble death, along with the “deaths of despair” of his two friends Gabe and Kevin, from suicide and a drug overdose, respectively, make very real the burdens of a meritocracy trap that reconfigures brutal systemic inequities as personal weaknesses or failures.
Rensch’s narrative is compelling, thorough, ambitious, and unquestionably moving. In a few places, his integration of many excellent sources feels like a disruption from his very fine storytelling, but this is understandable given the hybridity of such narratives. Overall, No Home for You Here is a lucid and challenging example of the power of memoir to make plain the human consequences of...