For she had spent the last two years letting things sink in, and now . . . guess what, bitch! Further absorption was no longer possible! All day she drank in information, but no one was telling them the most important thing.
After finishing my review of The Seas, a couple of days ago, in which I complained about the lack of straightforward storytelling, I picked up No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I knew it might be a bad move. This book is all about the fractured thoughts inside the internet (or, as the narrator terms it, “the portal”). And it’s written almost like a series of tweets, as the narrator muses over what it’s like to be very online, and to be very famous online. Somehow, though, it completely worked. Maybe Twitter has rewired by brain to the extent that a book written like Twitter just runs seamlessly into my brain. Whatever the reason, this book was perfect for where I am right now.
In the first part of the book, the narrator writes in short, snappy paragraphs about the thoughts that go through her mind, many of them about the internet. She became viral for a goofy tweet (“Can a dog be twins?”), and now she’s someone people in the portal listen to. She’s learned to think like the portal, but she lives in the real world. Sometimes there’s a clash.
The second part is about a clash that pulls her out of the portal entirely. Her sister’s pregnancy goes disastrously wrong, and so months of hard and unfair decisions followed by all the big feelings of love and loss ensue. It’s all outside the portal, and it becomes the main thing. The second part retains the fractured style of the first, but the narrator’s thoughts are centered on this one thing.
There’s been a lot of talk for years about whether the internet is real life. Mostly, there’s no clear answer. The people on the internet are real. What happens between them is fed by and feeds into real life. So that’s enough for it to matter in some way. At the same time, I have personally found the internet more and more empty and unsatisfying in the last year or two. I’ve all but given up on Facebook (I only post on my Buy Nothing Group and a couple of others). I’m quiet on Twitter (though I lurk there too much). I browse fewer blogs. At some point, it all just became too much. Too much and not enough. I keep writing reviews here, but mostly because I like having that record. It’s not the social outlet it once was.
And I think that’s why this book hit me so perfectly. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Big Things lately. Life and death and relationships and what actually matters. I suppose the pandemic, the election, the insurrection, and so on, put many of us in a contemplative space. Plus, there are all the things we can’t or won’t talk about publicly. There’s so much outside the portal.
This is not me saying, “ooh, there’s a big, beautiful world outside the internet. Go meet a friend for coffee or take a walk and enjoy it.” Our relationships with each other and the world are mediated by technology. It matters. But maybe it’s something that matters differently at different times for different people.
She tried to reenter the portal completely, but inside it everyone was having an enormous argument about whether they had ever thought the n-word, with some people actually professing that their minds blocked it out when they encountered it in a book, and she backed out again without a word.