Lot Six

  • Review
By – August 6, 2020

David Adj­mi grew up in Brooklyn’s tight-knit Jew­ish Syr­i­an com­mu­ni­ty, where his behav­ior was con­stant­ly mon­i­tored, lest he (inevitably) fail to live up to com­mu­nal expec­ta­tions. Home was no bet­ter: his manip­u­la­tive moth­er bat­tered his self-esteem, while his con­trol­ling and mono­ma­ni­a­cal” father offered only spo­radic affec­tion and support.

Despite this, Adj­mi even­tu­al­ly became a suc­cess, albeit in a field of which his fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty dis­ap­proved: the­ater. As a play­wright, he mined his suf­fo­cat­ing upbring­ing in his work — to great acclaim from every­one but the peo­ple he wrote about.

In his inti­mate and wit­ty mem­oir Lot Six, Adj­mi begins with his child­hood in Syr­i­an (or SY”) Brook­lyn. For some­one like Adj­mi, who bucks against the social­ly restric­tive bound­aries of the SY com­mu­ni­ty, dis­ap­proval comes from all quar­ters. He doesn’t por­tray his par­ents and sib­lings as cru­el; they are some­times unex­pect­ed­ly sup­port­ive. (For instance, it’s his moth­er who intro­duces him to the­ater, tak­ing him into Man­hat­tan to see Broad­way musi­cals.) But these moments are rare, and the love always seems conditional.

A deft­ly hon­est mem­oirist, Adj­mi doesn’t paint him­self as an angel, either. When his fam­i­ly berates him for being self-involved, those accu­sa­tions are true. When the friend­ships he has such dif­fi­cul­ty build­ing start to crum­ble, Adj­mi isn’t always the inno­cent vic­tim. And when his men­tors crit­i­cize him for being unpro­duc­tive, they’re not wrong.

Adjmi’s awk­ward youth in a Brook­lyn yeshi­va is expert­ly out­lined with often painful detail. The pace becomes slug­gish dur­ing his col­lege years, which are weighed down with navel-gaz­ing (includ­ing count­less ref­er­ences to Niet­zsche). But his sto­ry picks up again as it tran­si­tions, halfway through, into a com­ing-out tale.

The book’s title refers to an anti-gay slur used in the SY com­mu­ni­ty, based on busi­ness ter­mi­nol­o­gy that Adj­mi explains: It wasn’t just an epi­thet for a gay per­son — it was a price tag, a dec­la­ra­tion of val­ue. And a Lot Six had no val­ue.” Adjmi’s teenage wrestling with his sex­u­al­i­ty in an unsup­port­ive envi­ron­ment is wrench­ing to read. Even after escap­ing the SY com­mu­ni­ty, it is some time before Adj­mi accepts him­self as a gay man, and his years fum­bling with self-accep­tance are the rawest part of the story.

In the last part of the book, Adj­mi recounts his tri­als as a promis­ing but cre­ative­ly blocked play­wright. In his thir­ties, he’s back at his mother’s, strug­gling to make a liv­ing. But the com­mu­ni­ty that near­ly crushed him as a child ulti­mate­ly saves him — by inspir­ing his break­through play, Stun­ning, which played to sold-out crowds at Lin­coln Cen­ter. Its sub­ject: the SY com­mu­ni­ty. He calls the play a sui­cide note,” because it makes him per­sona non gra­ta among Brooklyn’s Syr­i­an Jews — includ­ing most of his fam­i­ly — even as it opens doors to him as an artist.

Despite obvi­ous resent­ments and emo­tion­al scars, Adj­mi doesn’t seem bit­ter. The final scene, a con­ver­sa­tion with his moth­er in the wake of his belat­ed suc­cess, is pitch-per­fect, proof that Adj­mi knows how to make char­ac­ters’ emo­tions ring true, even if those char­ac­ters aren’t always like­able. Even if one of those char­ac­ters is himself.

Wayne Hoff­man is a vet­er­an jour­nal­ist, pub­lished in The New York Times, Wall Street Jour­nalWash­ing­ton Post, Hadas­sah Mag­a­zineThe For­wardOutThe Advo­cate, and else­where; he is exec­u­tive edi­tor of the online Jew­ish mag­a­zine Tablet. The author of The End of Her: Rac­ing Against Alzheimer’s to Solve a Mur­der, he has also pub­lished three nov­els, includ­ing Sweet Like Sug­ar, which won the Amer­i­can Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award. He lives in New York City and the Catskills.

Discussion Questions