PositiveWiredThe third-person narration describes the protagonist’s world in surrealist, deliberately estranging terms—the internet is \'the portal,\' for example—and the first half of the novel unfolds as a series of airy musings on what it’s like to spend your days scrolling through feed after feed. Because it’s written by Lockwood, the language is galloping and fun, although I suspect readers unfamiliar with meme culture will find it all but impossible to parse ... Playfulness gilds each of these observations, but by the end of the book’s first half, I wondered what it could possibly have left to say. The narrator’s bawdy, excitable reveries were amusing enough, and the section floated along on its absurdist sentence-level strengths—it is fun to read—but the floaty quality drifted into weightlessness. How long could she riff about the inherent absurdity of the internet, exactly? ... But I forgot: Lockwood’s a poet, and if there’s one thing poets see as essential, it’s a turn ... This second half simultaneously builds on and knocks down what came before it. As it unfolds, the novel leaps from clever to moving, accumulating the gravity its first half sorely lacked; there are humans who care for one another sitting in the same room, there is the threat of loss, there are, finally, stakes.
PanWired... surprising, then. It’s a book I’d expect [Oyler] to flambé, had she not written it ... brims with riffs that wouldn’t be out of place in Oyler’s criticism ... While capable of efficiently roasting her cohort, the narrator’s aim wavers when she tries to explain herself ... The way the internet warps self-perception is a timely topic, and Oyler captures how exhausting it is to be constantly encouraged to ponder the type of person you’d like to appear to be. Fake Accounts is an effective portrait of someone who is too caught up in the performance of self to actually know herself, let alone anyone else. But it’s a one-dimensional portrait. No texture. By focusing so closely on the unrelenting inwardness of a shallow thinker, the book succumbs to a stultifying myopia; the narrator moves to Berlin but skims over the surface of expatriate life with total disregard for German culture, like Emily from Emily in Paris’ bad-tempered cousin with a personality disorder. It’s not a dupe for the experience of scrolling through Twitter, as the narrator feared, but something even worse: getting stuck on the profile of a particularly grouchy forum user ... The narrator’s estrangement keeps the reader at arm’s length; she has no recognizable authentic emotional reactions to the novel’s events, so it’s difficult to forget that she is a collection of postures and tics the author wanted to play with rather than, you know, a rounded character. She can be a bitch, which should be fun, but her bitchiness is mostly relegated to surly asides in her internal monolog, or mean-spirited observations about how she might delight in her acquaintances’ misfortune. Narcissists can be a great thrill to read about—but they’ve got to be dynamic, dammit ... Gimmicks deployed as generously as zingers create noise, not meaning ... lacking in a core ... packs the punch of an exposé on rigged carnival games. Who cares? We already knew it was bullshit ... reckons with what fiction can achieve in the age of Twitter, but this reckoning, rather than enlivening the story itself, stifles it. The characters filter their identities through screens, and this filtration allows for no depth, no emotional resonance. How strange, since Oyler’s criticism is clearly animated by strong feeling and a palpable sense of mischief. There’s nothing palpable here. What is the internet doing to people, to books? The ultimate answer Fake Accounts suggests is: making them sour, and small.
PositiveWired... delightfully tart ... The novel, out this week, arrives at an opportune moment, as the world Stein skewers is going through the same kind of upheaval she creates within her fictional universe, so much so that some of the passages appear nearly clairvoyant ... Devin and Maren are both, for lack of a nicer turn of phrase, profoundly corny dingbats, while Khadijah always reads more like a plot device than a person, and the contempt that the book has for its characters gives it a brisk, brusque verve ... Some of the book’s most lacerating moments come when Stein lays out exactly how nihilistic the women are beneath their Audre Lorde–quoting public personas ... a comedy of boardroom manners, and succeeds as such. But it did leave me wishing that it would scratch at its characters’ psychologies with as much precision as it skewered their sensibilities. Seeing the girlbosses of yore knocked off their pale dogwood pedestals this June has underlined just how shaky their claims to power and influence were all along. Self Care ends with the fall from grace. But the most interesting part will be what comes next.
PositiveWiredO’Connell’s apocalypse looms but never touches down. Intended as commentary on the current moment, it now reads like an artifact from a gentler era ... The preppers he spends time with say nada about epidemiology, and his conclusions about finding the joy in life aren’t trammeled by caveats about finding the joy in life … while sitting alone in a house as twinned cataclysms of a public health disaster and widespread financial instability have left huge swaths of the world isolated, impoverished, and staggeringly vulnerable ... The book is an outsider’s diary of encounters with a niche subculture, but in the time it took between writing and publication, the subculture’s behaviors are far easier to understand, while the everyman interloper is, frankly, exponentially less relatable. Spending hours a day discussing shelf-stable goods is no longer outlandish. Spending weeks bopping around the world, though, mingling with lots of new people—how outré! Reading O’Connell’s travelogue is like pushing hard into a bruise—painful, albeit masochistically satisfying. He goes on so many trips! ... It’s easy to turn away from pessimism about the future when it’s safe to fly around the world, to camp with strangers, to lean in and ask the person you’re interviewing face-to-face to repeat themselves ... If anything, though, the timing of its debut makes O’Connell’s book more relevant, not less. Notes From an Apocalypse is a gentle argument for coming to terms with the precarity of life, published in a moment where people are facing its fragility in an immediate and ungentle context ... O’Connell’s book reaffirms something that feels endangered—it’s still worthwhile to reject nihilism and turn toward joy.