Book reviews “Fake Accounts” and “Nobody talks about it”

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In “Fake Accounts” by Lauren Oyler a habitual liar reveals the humiliating truth about our age of social media. The misleading pose, the withering irony, the endlessly cloned political outrage – it’s all on full display here in this witty novel that captures a certain species of internet life better than any other book I’ve read. have read. A century ago, New York City had Edith Wharton; now the World Wide Web gets Lauren Oyler. We are quits.

The anonymous narrator of “Fake Accounts” is full of intellectual superiority and self-loathing, hovering “on the line between sympathetic and repulsive”. As a white woman in Brooklyn, she refuses to identify as a white woman in Brooklyn because, she says, “the description usually meant someone selfish, lazy, and in possession of a superficial understanding of matters complexes such as racism and literature” – in other words, someone like her.

This disarming candor continues throughout the novel, which is delivered in the cold, confidential tone of a narrator who anticipates every accusation leveled against her. Every scathing criticism she delivers turns into a mortifying confession. “To be clear,” she tells us at one point, “I know it’s boring.” Indeed, the longest section is subtitled: “Nothing happens”. “Fake Accounts” isn’t just a comedy of manners, it’s a literary snake biting its own tail.

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At the opening, the narrator snoops through her partner’s iPhone looking for evidence of infidelity. She confesses, “I was angry with my mother and online feminism for making me so paranoid.” Although she determines that her boyfriend, Felix, hasn’t wandered off, she discovers something more exciting: Felix maintains a secret life online as a conspiracy theorist. Tens of thousands follow his paranoid posts about 9/11, Jews, deadly cell phone radiation.

It sounds like the bizarre opening of a thriller – a naïve young woman caught up in the deceptions of a man she thought she knew! – but Oyler goes off in another direction. “Instead of being outraged or hurt,” the narrator says, “I suddenly felt magically free.” She had wanted to break up with Felix anyway; it was the perfect guilt-free excuse. Now she could “approach the business with the calm dignity befitting the partner of someone who needs help.”

Such synthetic authenticity is the signature maneuver of this young woman who speaks to us in long, streamlined sentences that strike pedestrians on both sides of the road. She’s obsessed with creating a character in a way that makes her equally outspoken and unapologetic. “A journalist of sorts”, she is a product and producer of internet culture. She works as a blogger for one of those vapid online publications where she posts two or three articles a day for an audience that wants to “learn things they could pretend they always knew.” The key, she notes, is to develop “a rote pseudo-intellectual disdain that could be applied to any subject as long as the worst political implications (ideally, that the thing at hand were bad for women) have been clarified at the end. In those moments – and there are many – Oyler seems to have collected the desperate 3 a.m. thoughts of an entire class of media professionals and released them.

There’s a plot here, albeit somewhat incidental to the book’s success, that hinges on the narrator’s deadpan grip on everything from podcasts to Instagram feminism to online dating. The “fake accounts” are especially acute when it comes to the banal, self-aggrandizing liberalism that arose with Donald Trump. “For a few months,” notes the narrator, “the political catastrophe seemed so severe that musical and cinematic preferences were no longer seen as the ultimate markers of moral fitness to fight. fascism, which has become, incredibly, a buzzword; although we can always Do more Where do betterthere was a sense that our embarrassment of privilege could be set aside to focus on the task at hand, even though I wasn’t quite sure what that task was.

Among the small group of people concerned with such things, Oyler is known as a formidable literary critic (she once dismantled one of my critics in the Nation), but “Fake Accounts” should get her the much wider audience she deserves. Her utter disregard for being loved is nowhere more apparent than when the novel turns into a 40-page parody of those fashionable women’s novels written in short sections and aphoristic sentences, “insinuating extreme meaning where it doesn’t there was only empty prose”.

Oyler seems to be taking direct aim at Patricia Lockwood’s debut novel, “nobody talks about itwhich is written in exactly this form. But these two brilliant novels, both published this month, are not so much adversaries as collaborators in a casual critique of our internet-attenuated lives.

The anonymous Lockwood protagonist rose to fame for posting the question “Can a dog be twins?” This insane koan launched his global career as a social media star. What follows is a series of isolated moments about a woman who is both a creature and a critic of the web.

“Nobody Talks About This” refers to the internet as “the portal,” part of its effort to disorient us enough to see just how weird modern life has become. The narrator, elevated “to a certain airy prominence,” lives in a surreal fusion with social media. “She opened the portal and the spirit met her more than halfway,” Lockwood writes. “Why did the portal seem so private, when you only entered it when you needed to be everywhere?” Such are the permanent mysteries of the experiment designed by some strange Silicon Valley billionaires. “It didn’t look exactly like real life,” she says, “but nowadays, what happened?”

The short sections that run through these pages – most no longer than a few tweets – offer a tour of our collective consciousness, the great cacophony of images and voices that capture the attention of the virtual world:

“She lay every morning under an avalanche of blissful details, photos of breakfasts in Patagonia, a girl applying her foundation with a hard-boiled egg, a shiba inu in Japan jumping from paw to paw to greet its own owner, ghostly pale women posting photos of their bruises – the world growing closer and closer, the cobweb of human connection becoming so thick it was almost solid shimmering silk.

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You can hear in these moments Lockwood’s experience as a poet. She’s a master of startling brevity when she highlights the nonsense we’ve grown too lazy to notice. “Each day,” she writes, “their attention must turn, like the flash of a school of fish, suddenly to a new person to hate. Sometimes the subject was a war criminal, but other times it was someone making a heinous substitution for guacamole.

Despite the spirit of his novel, there’s something almost brutal about the relentless way Lockwood lures us open-eyed through the social media quagmire we’ve grown accustomed to: steeped in the unfiltered stream of advice from manicures, torture videos, ferret selfies, traffic accidents, birthday cake disasters and tornado sightings, we float in a state of jaded contempt and dishonest sentimentality, knowing everything and nothing. “The spirit we were in was obsessive, persevering,” Lockwood writes. “He swam with superstition and half-remembered facts about how many spiders we ate per year and how quickly dentists killed themselves.”

“How are we going to preserve it for the future,” wonders the narrator, “what it’s like to be a man at the turn of the century” by posting photos of his genitals online. But it’s not just the obscenity of disgorging our bodies and our feelings that Lockwood emphasizes; it’s the indescribable degradation of calibrating our worth based on the accumulation of likes and retweets from strangers we call “friends”.

But after hovering in the ether of this virtual world, “No One Is Talking About This” reminds us, “There is still real life to live.” And with that, Lockwood cuts the ethernet cables. The novel’s register shifts and its cold absurdism evaporates in the heat of the most heartbreaking tragedy a family can endure.

I don’t want to say more, except to note that the second half of the story may be too much for some readers. It’s a dizzying experience, beautifully rendered but utterly devastating. I then shook home for days, broken but grateful to remember that the fleeting world we’ve built online is but a shadow compared to the pain and affection we’re blessed with. live in real life.

Ron Charles writes on books for the Washington Post and hosts

nobody talks about it

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Alycia R. Lindley