Summerbook #9: No One Is Talking About This
Hello! I went to visit a friend for a week, and I had a lovely time. Now I'm back, and --No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood
I kept hearing about how fantastic and unusual this story is, and so put it on my summer list. It is unusual, that's true. I kind of liked it? The characters remain unnamed, and it seems to (perhaps) be set in a slightly alternative America, where an unnamed dictator rules. The protagonist is a woman famous for her viral tweets in what she calls 'the portal.' For some reason, this gets her regular speaking gigs at TED-talk-like events. The story is told in an endless cascade of short fragments, so that it feels much like scrolling endlessly through a social media feed.
In the first half of the novel, she seems to get less and less tethered to reality, spending hours a day on her feeds and convinced that only the portal is important, while real life (which contains a slightly worried husband) isn't quite as real. She posts regularly in a surrealist and humorous vein that sounds very of this moment; as my Gen Z kid has commented, Zoomer humor is very absurdist and surreal, which I personally enjoy.
The second half, however, jerks her back into the physical world as her pregnant sister finds out that the baby she has been joyously anticipating has a genetic defect that will result in a form of elephantiasis. If she survives, it won't be for long. The parents, grandmother, and sister/protagonist form an almost-commune as they care constantly for this beloved child, whom they defiantly find beautiful and wise. Her perspective changes radically at the same time that the portal gets increasingly strange.
I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. I loved the way the characters loved their baby together. It certainly made me think about the internet as a thing. I enjoyed much, but not all, of the humor and insight. It's a weird novel.
It was a mistake to believe that other people were not living as deeply as you were. Besides, you were not even living that deeply.
Every day their attention must turn, like the shine on a school of fish, all at once, toward a new person to hate. Sometimes the subject was a war criminal, but other times it was someone who made a heinous substitution in guacamole. It was not so much the hatred she was interested in as the swift attenuation, as if their collective blood had made a decision. As if they were a species that released puffs of poison, or black ink in a cloud on the ocean floor. I mean, have you read that article about octopus intelligence? Have you read how octopuses are marching out of the sea and onto dry land, in slick and obedient armies?
There was a new toy. Everyone was making fun of it, but then it was said to be designed for autistic people, and then no one made fun of it any more, but made fun of the people who were making fun of it previously. Then someone else discovered a stone version from a million years ago in some museum, and this seemed to prove something. Then the origin of the toy was revealed to have something to do with Israel and Palestine, and so everyone made a pact never to speak of it again. And all of this happened in like four days.
Jet lag had a habit of turning her into her mother, a high school librarian with a quiet drinking problem. If only my mother had been a college librarian, she thought. Then I would have had a real shot at the right ideas.
Modern womanhood was more about rubbing snail mucus on your face than she had thought it would be. But it had always been something, hadn't it? Taking drops of arsenic. Winding bandages around the feet. Polishing your teeth with lead. It was so easy to believe you freely chose the paints, polishes, and waist-trainers of your own time, while looking back with tremendous pity to women of the past in their whalebones....
On a slow news day, we hung suspended from meathooks, dangling over the abyss. On a fast news day, it was like we had swallowed all of NASCAR and were about to crash into the wall. Either way, it felt like something a dude named Randy was in charge of.
"A minute means something to her, more than it means to us. We don't know how long she has -- I can give them to her, I can give her my minutes." Then, almost angrily, "What was I doing with them before?"