'Who Does Not Envy With Us Is Against Us' By Maria Fusco. Published by Broken Sleep Books

Why You Should Read Maria Fusco

A review of Maria Fusco (2023) ‘Who Do Not Envy With Us is Against Us’ Ceredigion: Broken Sleep Books.
July 16, 2023

This is a small book in length. It is thin in terms of pages with 35 numbered ones and some free pages to ‘Lay Out Your Unrest’. This is deceptive (not the unrest opportunity, that may well be useful) as these pages hold so much. I wanted to review because I have been encouraged to read it several times and every time I thought differently, but the same, unrest and an uneasy sense of belonging. These pages are brilliant and I am going to give several reasons for reading them that are observations, but inside ones, feelings, responses. Some memories, some impacts, something that you won’t have the same manifestation of, but will feel first and then think differently.

On one level, this is a series of essays on class. It is from a working-class perspective but not just that. It is also from trauma, everyday trauma that makes you what you are and that takes a lifetime to respond to. Poverty and the distinction between working classness and what that means. I felt this and this is what happens across these pages, feeling. Maria Fusco’s essays reflect on a time that include exposure to familiar horror, ‘The Troubles’. This is written in such away that is at once everyday, but monumental. I was in a seminar about trauma informed education and discovered it is recognised now that trauma alters the brain, it affects the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, the amygdala and makes world perception biologically different. Maybe that is what happens here. We find the slipstream of Maria Fusco, inside and alongside the essays is reflection and a deeper appreciation, of simple moments of trampled coats and extended professorial dumps and brutal streets and sanctuary that is also threatening. Huge Sweeps and minute detail, humour and wonder, anger and envy and insight.  We will all read it differently based on our own experiences. I was finding things written here that I understood as feelings and had never had them represented before. This is literature that reveals the power of art to uncover what lies beneath and beyond. I was thinking of these essays and my responses throughout the whole trauma discussion. The book is something special. Buy it and read it.

Writer Maria Fusco
Maria Fusco

Maria Fusco talks about the ways in which the world we live in always teaches and that teaching is not the kind that happens in schools. When I was a teenager in Ashton library I read Orwell because my Uncle Ken told me it would help me understand stuff a bit more. Ken was a plumber and the youngest of mum’s brothers and sisters and very clever, in a way nobody seemed to understand. Especially his brothers and sisters and all the people in this town that could not see he was a radical genius educator. I did not think that then either but I knew he was opening things that seemed not just closed but invisible to everyone else. It was a different story he hoped to tell me, amidst brutal cruelty and lack, and to tell himself. Maria Fusco opens one essay around her early years watching television horror. We all find narrative, outside ones and the ones we are a living almost without noticing. In one description we hear of Sally and her tendency of describing her actions in the third person. It is powerful, the whole experience of these essays is of seeing those intertwining narratives, the competition between them, the necessity of them in poverty and the increasing desperation that comes as the bleakest win.

There is something important about the purpose of the essays, at least the purpose I found in them for me. Maria Fusco tells us she has spent an adult life amongst the middling classes. Knows them more than most. I have never been in a middle class person’s house but I work in academia, so I have some limited experience. Not friends, but that terrible term, colleagues. Many do influential work and I have seen influence being traded and developed. I rarely if ever recognise anyone in those conferences as people beyond that trading of ideas and influence. Nobody represents the places I am from and even people from there (like me) we have to adapt so much to have any place there at all we cannot really mention our lives other as some form of misplaced exotica, poverty or marginal existence as other. Maria Fusco finds a way to challenge, to represent and to do that with deceptive intensity.

Reason #1 Organic intellectuals and natural genius are manifest. I wish Uncle Ken had been here to read Maria Fusco[1] with me. Lots of us have people like this we had open a door or maybe show us that doors were even there, hidden in the bushes. Maria Fusco seems to know this too and provides a pathway to walk along. Reading these essays is a guide for working class genius educators, apprentice or not, and helps go that bit deeper than was previously possible. I mean, it is not a guide, but reading them shows the ways we view ourselves and the significance of that and what that might mean.

I read Orwell. First The Road to Wigan Pier (Ashton is in Wigan according to the long lens of ignorant distance) and then 1984. What stayed with me about both (even though my grandad worked in the same pit that Orwell visited in the 1930s and would even have been down there, who knows) was the severed hand in the street that Winston walked down. Like litter, unheralded, detritus. That chilled me, and I was glad it was a dystopian novel because I had sometimes felt that was how all of us were in our house. Not just the hands. In Maria Fusco’s incredibly beautiful essay ‘Why I write the way I write (Sally)’ a severed head is brought in from the street and put in the bath with the defrosting Christmas turkey. I thought at once that Maria Fusco had a life beyond horror in many ways, and although we have similarities of big families in tiny houses, this was another world I cannot imagine. The chilling bit is just like Orwell but more because this is real. And the everydayness of this moment is the chill in the bones. Hours after getting this book in the post and reading this essay twice and mid-way through a third reading I was in a building with two other people talking about this head and they knew the horror and wanted to know how it could be considered everyday. I wanted to tell them that to know this you have to read the essay because some people can write in ways that are beyond understanding. Actually, in ways that provide understanding but you are never quite sure how you came to understand. This is that kind of book. Maria Fusco is better than Orwell.

In The Road to Wigan Pier Orwell gave himself away to a young teenage me when he described being in the train looking at a woman with a hand up a drain pipe in a yard and knowing she felt abject misery and he empathised. Ignorance through distance. And for so long that up-on-high passenger-with-window account of people with yards and drain pipes and occasional cleaning duties was all there was to read about us. We learn of Sally and her brilliant prose hidden and never (not ever) realised – no salvation. Through Sally you can look again at your own home and mum and world and see that you were not as badly off as you first thought, as Maria Fusco does, but also see what was lost too. Maybe for the first time, like I did. The invisibility and the darkest most hideous waste of all of that hidden, then lost and still hidden, genius. The turkey got thrown away, it nearly killed Sally, Maria Fusco says of her mother.

Reason #2 Other worlds are not other they are always there and all we need is to see them. I mean our own. Our world as we see it and not as it is shown to us by others that do not know but then convince us we are that version of ourselves. Read Maria Fusco and see that world of another person is like that world of yours too. Not the same. Rosi Braidotti, a posthuman philosopher, suggests that “we-are-all-in-this-together-but-we-are-not-one-and-the-same” (this was in 2017 and there is a link to that in the references if you want to know more). Reading these essays is a means of finding out about yourself by finding out about another. Everything resonates, the insight and the piercing honesty of the insights, the awareness of self and the limitations of that. Much of this work feels microscopic and universal at the same time. I felt this way, that trying to understand challenges and frustrations of class inequality needed text books and definitions and studies. They do not. They need our own lives rethought without fear and loathing. 

Sometimes you might find yourself in a room of people talking about being working class and not feel any affinity at all. I don't know if they are or not, they seem not but I do not know. It does not matter really but it can get in the way. It is not the voice, not entirely; it is the lack of the shared sense of things that make the whole enterprise not an 'us'. There is no need to claim working classness because it is not a coat you put on or take off and Maria Fusco is able to explore that in ways that are felt. I trust Maria Fusco and know we are sharing something not fabricated through art but that uses art to reveal things, see things, return to things that are felt in ways not too nice or easy to feel. Maria Fusco distinguishes between types of working classness and I felt that I knew what this meant. You might know this too, and it's not just that the free school meal queue was shaming and also forever, it is that it makes this world different, the decades later world not just that one left behind. In the final essay, we are invited to see mood envy and the insidious ways in which these crawling sensations of shame arrive. People, teachers, governors, the localised decision mongers of another class decided to make free school meal tickets another colour. Separation is grown. None of us want that rage but we want in part to explain why it lingers. This is recognised here and that makes the world warmer. These are essays that read as poetry. They are both. At the same time. They are also stories as well as being triggers to other thoughts and responses and writing and thinking and conversation. You will know who you trust because they will be the people you seek out to talk about this book to. Or at least how you will talk about this book and what you know they will understand already. I heard Maria Fusco read one of the essays in a publishing company online reading. I have never been to one before and the work was unfamiliar, but I immediately recognised Maria Fusco in performance as well as in text. I do not know how to explain that, just that when we hear voices not our own, but we know in any encounters we can see each familiarity, even when it is not us. It makes us feel it kind of is. We are in this together but we are not all the same.

Reason #3 A victory of recognition becomes possible. Small victories perhaps, but even in wretched states there is something powerful about seeing things you recognise being said and made visual and put in places you do not usually see them, see me, see you. Even if it is not you doing it and it is someone else you do not know, it is a warm feeling and one that sparks things of possibility. It does come at a cost of some anguish of all those lost things and invisible and never going to be there things, but that comes next, the middling classes and envy.

What Maria Fusco manages to do is write about class without becoming maudlin. It is a complex balance, to include the severe bruising poverty brings while not entranced by the bruises. I wrote this bit in a café in Accrington. The word processor added that accent to the e, not me, nor the establishment I was sat in. Lots of times in this town I had struggled and was poor and an adult and living on settees sometimes. Being in a café on a Thursday dinner time was something I was congratulating myself on. Reading Maria Fusco as a life makes the past comeback but not to haunt you. It is the opposite, maybe hauntology that allows you to explore those unsaid gnawing things in your belly and head that stop you going into certain places or doing so many things. This is true of poverty and all the things that go with it. Maria Fusco talks about these with what seems initially as simplicity but that hits elsewhere. Blow fly knowledge, tiny stabs in the flesh that leave gigantic waves of realisation flooding through the feeling body, reawakening histories we habitually repress. We hide these pasts and know them and pretend we are like others and then read Maria Fusco and dig them up again and have a look. There is something mystical about deep insightful exposure of lives through the analysis of tiny acts. These essays attract, remind and reframe lives in the space of so few pages.

Reason #4 A hauntological one person séance occurs. Reading Maria Fusco is not really hauntology. These are real belly hits and they sizzle things within you, not as fictionalised things but dealing anew with what lies there inside and across and beyond. It is really hauntology too. Mark Fisher (2017) says hauntology is ‘like hearing double’ where we are hearing things - at once – twice. Two things going on. These poems essays stories make union between the highly personalised narratives and the universal of shared experience. This might be true of all literature (it really is not) but it is certainly true of working class literature that tells of working class experience. So rare is it that I found myself reading again immediately to recreate that hum, a bell sound. The chime that occurs is recognised in the way that working class is not a claim to make – although I have claimed it and so has Maria Fusco here, but is a feeling that cannot be easily described. It is a feeling and a throb and a sense of the world. The second sound of experience we hear embedded in the first of narrative. There is a shock to the system, not having to navigate usual assumptions of lives represented in literature as middle class lives. The shock is not unpleasant and the séance comes through that sense of being included, seen, heard.

'Who Does Not Envy With Us Is Against Us' By Maria Fusco. Published by Broken Sleep Books

In the last essay, Who do not envy with us is against us Maria Fusco takes us via hefty academic baguette habits, over long toilet trips, judging literary competitions and work motivations into a thing called ‘envy mood’. There is more in the final essay, this I have felt and know you will feel too. Envy mood is profound, and you will be immediately empowered, tickled, uplifted by getting into the term ‘middling class’ and immediately feeling that and turning that over. I have not spoken a great deal about the first essay because I was familiar with that and have spent some time talking about working classness as method, which lies in there. Reading Maria Fusco is deceptive. Things that appear as a handful of sentences but crackling ones that shudder something inside and can, and have, become hours and hours of conversation, thinking and writing. Read that one and think and talk about it. Sometimes we can embody things that do not belong to us but that have been forced into us. We need ways out and Maria Fusco’s essays are that for me and might be for you. This is work by an author that is also writing experimental opera and making changes in huge and unexpected places that might be unexpected only because of where Maria Fusco is from. When we are impacted by these words, and you will be, we will return to how this deception occurs. I conclude that it lands here through brilliance. Being able to say brilliance and have evidence and know that comes from a place like ours, a little bit, that is not usually where brilliance is looked for, is exciting. Maria Fusco, as I said, is better than Orwell. In the final essay we can see Maria Fusco as pioneer, a presence in the world of the middling classes that we may never engage with. Through these reflections we get a picture of it, not cruel or vindictive or vengeful. Honest, detailed, insightful. I had a strange realisation I was reading the other classes described in the same ways the working class are generally discussed, at an observed distance. It felt quite beautiful, and empowering. Envy mood is something to reflect on, although I think it was immediate in appreciation, the sharp elbowed crowd and their ways of coming to that position. I saw that but maybe I brought that with me. There is more here, a hint at a collective madness of entitlement and desire that will make me return to it with others.

Reason #5 Creating and living with new systems and ways of being (like education ones) need us to see properly. Seeing properly is a problem because of confirmation bias. Systems, like education systems, do not work for many working-class people. That is because they get overlooked in place of the exceptions who do well and then support a pretend fact they are exceptional people and the system works and if you do not do well it is because you are not exceptional. Maria Fusco highlights how having a single thing called working class is ridiculous. Not as basically as I have said it here. It is necessary to talk about poverty, a being poor that escapes the great behemoths of theory and sociology and even the more fluid and funky human geography. Maria Fusco is a seer, I saw Sally. I see me. Uncle Ken, so many others. So many. You will do too, to read Maria Fusco is to see again what is right in front of your eyes. See too the middling class. These essays linger, you feel that even on a first reading. There is a significance here that joins old narratives together and creates new ones.      

Sometimes you might get down because you think it is all passing by and you never got included and it was already decided before now and there was no salvation. It is common to think there should have been. Like Sally we might have greatness never recognised and did not know we had or be woken on our death beds and think we are late for work, and that is all there is. It might be all there is and that is still lots more than others. Like a lot of my own previous reasons to encourage you to read these story poem essay words is that they help rethink what you already know. This comes so strongly here that you need to take time to read then rest. You have work to do.

Reason #6

Read Maria Fusco and make your own reasons why. What do I know? You will. Maria Fusco is no Johnny-come-lately with a few words to pen. Like me. This is someone writing experimental opera and chairing prizes for great literature. That is important. I read a few pieces by Kenn Taylor again before this book arrived, he uses lots of cultural reminders of why how working class involvement in the arts and in culture is difficult, challenging. He includes a Pulp lyric I thought worked beautifully to illustrate his point.

‘As it says in Mis-Shapes:

“We want the things you won’t allow us

We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombs

We’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of — that’s our minds”’  (Taylor, 2022)

It is important Maria Fusco is there, writing, seeing, saying. She is in this with us, but she is not the same. Neither are you.


Banks,N., Cocker, J., Doyle, C., Mackey, S., Senior, R., Webber, M. (1995). Mis-Shapes. Retrieved from: https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/pulp/misshapes.html

Braidotti, R. (2017). Posthuman, All Too human: Memoirs and Aspirations of a Posthumanist.

Lecture given at Yale University, March 1-2. Available at: https://tannerlectures.utah.edu/Manuscript%20for%20Tanners%20Foundation%20Final%20Oct%201.pdf.

Fisher,M. (2017). DOCH Lectures #1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-9nY5rboK8

Taylor, K. (2022) On Cardigans, Accents and Mis-shapes. Lumpen Journal, issue 10, July 2022. https://kenn-taylor.com/2022/10/29/on-cardigans-accents-and-mis-shapes/

[1] Throughout I will use Maria Fusco in full. I felt it rude to go back to school based militarisation of ‘Fusco’ as is the academic and writerly convention. OrMaria, which is too familiar and suggests a pally relationship that does not exist and would be uncomfortable to write.