It’s a brilliant comic novel about the ways in which the internet muddles all of our interior rivers while at the same time polluting the seas of the outer world, and about how these processes might be one and the same thing ... the descriptive prose is casually great ... a fascinating work of cultural analysis. Every sentence tells ... a prismatically intelligent work of art.
All of this makes for a very clever and entertaining comedy of manners; Fake Accounts proves that Oyler can apply her astute observational skills to fiction just as well as her criticism, and her treatment of social media is where they’re at their sharpest. The book is as close an approximation can get of what it’s like to be desperately reaching for meaning when the lines between work and life are so shot through with social media as to be rendered ineffective; when earnestness is passé, except when used sparingly by hip personalities on Twitter before returning to regularly scheduled nihilistic content ... A related intrigue that Fake Accounts deftly executes, so smoothly as to almost be incidental even though of course it isn’t, is capturing interpersonal dynamics as perceived by young women who have had to broker some sort of peace with themselves regarding the fact that there is almost nothing that doesn’t feel like a performance, especially when dealing with men ... the cleverest ending to a book I’ve read in a long time, and I’ll be thinking of it while reading everyone else’s reviews of this book when they come out and the discourse that might follow — knowing that might be entirely by design ... By ducking and weaving around earnestness, by painting so lurid a portrait of how performative irony online can calcify emotional muscles and corrode the ability to relate to others in a way that isn’t mediated by technology at all, Oyler has created a narrator who is both wholly unreliable, pretty unlikeable, and something of a stand-in for her own public persona. I cannot tell whether I would have liked the style of Fake Accounts as much had it not come from someone whose writing and opinions I mostly already trust, or if I would have thought it overly defensive in her need to set it apart from the other contemporary voices of a generation, when they’re usually all talking over each other anyway. But figuring that out seems to be, as Oyler might have put it, entirely beside the point.
Whether or not the conjuring of such inwardness is reading’s greatest pleasure for you, at the very least we might agree that inwardness is a necessary precondition for creating anything worth reading. Or so I have believed. Here I sit, having just completed a novel that lines up these pieties and threatens to dispatch them with calm and ruthless efficiency ... it is most thoroughly and exuberantly about the hunched, clammy, lightly paranoid, entirely demented feeling of being 'very online' — the relentlessness of performance required, the abdication of all inwardness, subtlety and good sense ... The novel has Points it would like to make — about self-mythologizing on the internet and in life, the overlap of the virtual and the actual; they are obvious and easily mapped. The riffs are its strongest aspects ... You can get away with this sort of thing in a review, if you want to — creating dramas in which you, the critic, get to burst in waving a little sword, setting the world right. But can this safe, self-certain, self-congratulatory voice sustain a novel? Fake Accounts is, essentially, many of these interactions strung together. Oyler’s characters are unapologetic foils, useful idiots babbling on about 'wellness' and turmeric who allow our brilliant, irascible narrator to rant eloquently at familiar targets, like patronizing self-professed 'male feminists,' bourgeois white women who insist they are oppressed ... The book isn’t written in little bursts or fragments (a form the narrator deplores, and parodies to good effect), but the tone is identical, that callow, quippy cleverness, the disdain... 'Yes, but,' I say, for all its forceful and stylish prose, for Oyler’s signature denunciation of moral equivocation and imprecision in thought and language. 'Yes, but' because I felt sharpened by it, grateful for its provocations ... She settles on 'difficult but worth it.' I might describe this novel similarly — not difficult but maddening at times, too cautious, regrettably intent on replicating the very voice it critiques. But worth it, yes, especially if you’re up for a fight, to liven up whatever inwardness remains to you.
An invigorating work, deadly precise in its skewering of people, places and things. It’s a novel about social media and its insidious creep into our lives, the way it has reconfigured our behavior, relationships and — perhaps most critically, for the ambitions of this book — the way we think about and relate to ourselves ... also the work of a critic who has made a career of studying a much older piece of technology: the book, and in particular, the novel. Her debut is packed with references to contemporary writers, from Ben Lerner to Jenny Offill ... Oyler posits books as products of their time — dated, in the way of Instagram posts and tweets, down to the year, or even month. Books are not necessarily elevated above social media, but they are also not eradicated by it ... this cynicism blunts her ability to navigate the world, and her own emotions, with catastrophic results ... That sense of entrapment — of not knowing how to relate to the world — is central to the novel. Oyler is such a funny writer that it can be easy to overlook the fact that the underlying tone of her book is extreme disquiet. Irony provides no protection from unease, but is itself a source of it.
Oyler’s debut does not disappoint. Fake Accounts is a sharply observed and wryly funny satire on the banal sociopathy of online life ... Oyler’s narration is ruminative and essayistic — this is palpably a novel written by a critic — but the story ticks along nicely ... the internet poses a conundrum for contemporary novelists: should they merely write about it, or seek to emulate its texture in their prose? Oyler doesn’t attempt the latter, which might just be impossible. Fake Accounts is all the better for it.
... [a] witty novel that captures a certain species of Internet life better than any other book I’ve read. A century ago New York City got Edith Wharton; now the World Wide Web gets Lauren Oyler. We’re even ... That disarming candor extends throughout the novel, which is delivered in the cool, confidential tone of a narrator who anticipates every charge against her. Each scathing criticism she delivers twists into a mortifying admission ... isn’t just a comedy of manners, it’s a literary snake that eats its own tail ... Oyler seems to have gathered the despairing 3 a.m. thoughts of a whole class of media professionals and published them ... There is a plot here, though it’s somewhat incidental to the book’s success, which rests on the narrator’s deadpan skewering of everything from podcasts to Instagram feminism to online dating. Fake Accounts is particularly sharp when it comes to the trite, self-aggrandizing liberalism that arose along with Donald Trump ... Among the tiny group of people concerned with such things, Oyler is known as a fearsome literary critic, but Fake Accounts should bring her the vastly larger audience she deserves.
... begins promisingly if predictably ... soon reverts to the familiar scathing tone of Oyler’s book reviews – her own spiky comfort zone – and the shapelessness of autofiction ... despite a strong 'Beginning', the novel soon becomes laboured and pretentious ... You can see the not-so-subtle influence of Rachel Cusk in the way Oyler’s narrator makes friends with vapid people and then mocks those people for being vapid. There are encounters with dumb ex-pats who voice second-rate opinions for her to roll her eyes at – or else serve as an audience for her own, much more correct takes. Characters with any depth are either sidelined or written in as an afterthought, as if their humanity is an irritating inconvenience ... The problem is that Oyler can’t see beyond the transactional and it soon becomes exhausting to live in a world where everything is critique – especially one that is so cold and reductive ... It’s not only the supercilious tone and ironic verbosity that makes the reader feel like she’s being mocked, it’s also the glacial pace of the book ... It’s like a bad pastiche of Karl Ove Knausgaard. The more she bores us, the more you can feel Oyler smirking, relishing her effect. It’s supposed to be artless! That’s the whole point. It’s an imitation of social media shallowness ... an experiment in sustained snark, far more interested in critiquing than depicting or dramatising. Indeed, dramatising might sound too much like entertainment ... in between an unsettling opening and a provocative climax, Oyler can’t really be bothered to animate the ideas she’s trying to explore. Fiction needs to describe the shape and experience of the world it’s depicting, not just offer a wordy critique of it. Fake Accounts feels like an elaborate defence mechanism constructed primarily for a tiny Brooklyn literary circle. It’s easy to be a scornful smartass, a call-out agent; it takes a lot more courage to be vulnerable and sincere ... Oyler’s book inadvertently becomes the one thing she definitely did not want it to be: an argument for the primacy of the internet over literature. 'To be clear, I know this is boring' the narrator repeatedly says. To be clear, I was bored. By the end, I was delighted to get back to my phone and have a good doomscroll.
Whether it satisfies you will depend on your appetite for characters whose hollowness is, in the style of Bret Easton Ellis’s Patrick Bateman, both satirical and unsettlingly charismatic. Oyler’s narrator is far less violent than Bateman, but she is almost as likely to instrumentalize others, including her audience ... she mocks herself, her impulse to mock herself, the cultural forces that give rise to that impulse, the idea that she might have real problems, and the idea that she might not. She is always a step, or several, ahead of her imagined readers ... Oyler’s very detailed and specific descriptions of using popular devices, apps and websites are among the best I have read ... Oyler plays us in a fun but disconcerting game of multidimensional chess.
... almost aggressively unvarnished prose ... excels at navigating the fantasyland that has usurped reality’s place. Yet one of its most interesting moments comes toward the end when Oyler’s protagonist briefly abandons the book’s present-tense mode of narration and gives readers a glimpse into her past, offering an interpretation of how we arrived at this point in the first place ... an audacious, mordant, and frequently hilarious sendup of internet culture at the turn of the decade, and a likely harbinger of how novels about the internet will read in years to come.
Oyler’s treatment of the moment of revelation is provocatively prosaic ... The detached literalism is typical of Oyler’s style ... Reading Oyler’s dispassionate book, I was reminded of how in Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People every glance, every cup of coffee vibrates with emotional significance ... Oyler’s attempts to describe subjective feeling can seem uneasy, overthought and clogged (a feature of her worst criticism) ... Distrust of feeling is valuable in a critic, but less desirable in a novelist. Fake Accounts is most entertaining when Oyler extends her scepticism of 'authenticity' to culture at large ... The novel, like Oyler’s criticism, is thoughtful, inquiring and independent-minded. But, unlike criticism, a novel must have something at stake emotionally. It may seem stupider to feel than it is to think, but in some ways it is braver. Literature must risk this brave stupidity. This, at least, is something that Sally Rooney and Jia Tolentino know.
... resolute in its indifference to do-gooding. What the author thinks the novel should be doing instead, however, is less clear. With formidable defenses of irony and sarcasm, the novel’s pugilistic voice is determined to never be caught off guard ... The finality of this arch cynicism is arresting, but perhaps a bit too easy ... not every book has to be an overt political statement, especially when we’re so often being sold something on the sly, but the degree of emphasis placed on this refusal seems overzealous, a poster’s hedge against being seen as too sincere ... There is risk in letting yourself be understood, and Oyler does not take this risk ... something like Rachel Cusk’s Outline novels if the narrator never listened to anyone else’s story. The solipsism is the joke, yes, but it still feels like an abandonment of something that might have made the novel more complex, or simply provided some relief ... Capturing the spirit of the Internet has become an obsession of recent literary fiction, with authors fearing their voices will be lost in the din and feeling the pressure of relevance hovering over them. Oyler’s novel does it more successfully than most, but somehow that success feels like failure at the same time, a novel so determined to anticipate its criticisms that it, in effect, outsmarts itself.
[A] smart and dark and confounding debut novel ... Oyler, a prolific critic and reviewer, has written a novel that is a pleasure to read and easy to inhale. The writing is brilliant, bringing to life a narrator with a penetrating gaze and a mordant, misanthropic voice. And yet Fake Accounts is a strange and difficult book, one in which the writer takes a dazzling premise and does little with it beyond making a string of wry comments. That this review is critical of Fake Accounts should be taken as a sign of my respect for the novel. I loved it. But even a great novel can also be fairly inexplicable ... Oyler’s first-person narration is nothing if not a vehicle for funny and trenchant observations. Her narrator is ostensibly a writer, but one who seems to think quite little about writing, much less do it with any frequency ... Indeed, Fake Accounts has essentially no characters other than the protagonist—certainly, there are none with any interiority. Instead, there is the protagonist and her witty, deadpan musings ... To be sure, Oyler has not reproduced all of the trends she has interrogated as a book critic ... The narrator is hilarious. It’s just a shame that she says so much and means so little.
Oyler skillfully does what she sets out to do: diagnose a subset of a generation that is terminally online, painfully lonely, performatively political, and full of pathological liars. Any potential remedies, or even an explicit prognosis, are nowhere to be found; neither Oyler nor our narrator is interested in providing them. Fake Accounts is a hyper self-aware, self-conscious account of the life of a woman who can see her and others’ problems in high relief but is, mostly, uninterested in solving them. I wish this book didn’t exist. Not because it’s bad — quite the opposite. Oyler is a talented prose stylist, darkly funny at times, biting, clever. Her narrator’s observations of the world are crystal-clear and true. But it’s a dark, lonely, alienated world where our narrator lives — and which has produced this novel. I wish it weren’t so.
In this equally exhausting and well-executed debut, Lauren Oyler turns her sharp critical eye on the world of social media—the lies we tell online and the lies we tell ourselves ... Language shifts from immensely run-on sentences—reminiscent of intelligent but overly lengthy blog posts; there is no dialogue, and there is very little in the way of traditional conflict and/or action ... it feels like I’m listening to a very long, circuitous, and not very interesting story told by a privileged and incredibly self-absorbed young woman. Maybe that’s the point: in a world where many people under a certain age live large parts of their lives online, it’s hard for them not to be self-absorbed, and it’s equally hard for the rest of us to care ... That she’s bright is obvious, that she’s both insecure and wildly self-absorbed becomes apparent in many of her statements, including, 'pace yourself, you still have a lot to read,' which, while meta, is more annoying to the reader than amusing: again, this is likely the point—we aren’t meant to 'like' her ... There’s a certain appeal in a narrator so unlikeable as to be laughable. And there’s also a certain appeal in Oyler’s playing with structure while signaling that she’s doing so with big flag ... As a first novel, this is both an ambitious project and a difficult read: Oyler is an adept and interesting writer who has successfully created a (mostly) unlikeable and unreliable narrator, while also presenting a deep critique of the ways we communicate.
Oyler all but invites us to read the novel through the lens of her criticism. Sometimes that feels like an exercise, or a test, or a hunt. I won’t list all the times Oyler plays with the ruminative cliché about things that signify both 'everything and nothing'; readers can decide for themselves whether they’re meant as satire. Looking for an overarching theory would put us in a category that Oyler has conveniently dismissed. Fake Accounts closes with a hasty twist that undermines the narrator’s entire project. She sees this, in part, as a failure to close-read the now obvious evidence. Looking back, we can be certain only that her version of events is—to borrow a favorite, maddening formulation of hers—reliably unreliable. This caveat is nothing new. The actual surprises in Fake Accounts are the minor ones. You think you know someone—and then she enrolls in German lessons.
The unnamed protagonist of Fake Accounts details the habits of our age with anthropological accuracy and their anomic consequences with sharp and rueful insight. Her creator, feminist literary enfant terrible Lauren Oyler, deftly manipulates writerly tropes and cultural stereotypes, staying always a sneaky step ahead of her reader. All this intimidating intelligence is deployed in service of … not much, which is at once a theme of this debut novel and a bit wearing ... This narrative grounds a stream of astutely detailed ruminations on the experience of contemporary life ... Is she right? Sure. Does she mean it? Maybe. Does it matter? In a novel where nobody is held to account, not really ... reading Fake Accounts at the start of 2021, when fake accounts have killed people and brought our political system to its knees, its flipness seems as insufficient as it is apt.
Plenty of fiction and nonfiction explores how performance of the self on social media can be detrimental to our lives. Fake Accounts raises the bar on this theme, prompting the question of how much distance a person can really put between oneself and an online persona ... [a] wild literary ride.
... 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.
In the weeks preceding the 2017 inauguration, a politically progressive twentysomething digital writer breaks into her boyfriend's phone because she suspects he's cheating. The truth is even worse: He's leading a double life as an influential online right-wing conspiracy theorist. That premise alone carries enough intrigue to span an entire novel's worth of plot, but Fake Accounts doesn't stop there ... offering up an inner monologue full of brilliantly astute cultural criticisms. The premise may sound dark, but Lauren Oyler's delightfully wry, sharply observational prose turns the protagonist's pity party into a lively affair.
... relentlessly wordy ... [a] dazzling, devastatingly funny and sharply observed account of life on and around social media...also [a] case study in how difficult it is to write fiction that gives us real insight into our brain-parasite-like relationship with social media without giving us the same bone-deep sense of self-loathing and futility as six hours of scrolling Twitter ... every feeling in Fake Accounts is wrapped in so many layers of self-awareness and posturing, I’d be hard-pressed to identify an emotion not primarily rooted in, or expressed as, embarrassment or annoyance ... written against the fragment and the pithy observation, everything picked apart and examined rather than left to speak for itself. This is not any less stressful than a fragmented novel; in fact, “Fake Accounts” is one of the more stressful novels I’ve read lately. It doesn’t reproduce the interrupted flow of life on Twitter, but it does reproduce the mental state induced by it: uneasy, lightly paranoid, claustrophobic, cynical. Fake Accounts is exciting for its commitment to considering everything, to never glossing over. But while successful at capturing the misery of life online, it sometimes feels captured by it.
Apologies to those whom Oyler has savaged: her debut novel, Fake Accounts, deserves praise. Exhibiting style and dark wit, it’s of the moment (Trump, Twitter, and Tinder, the whole gang’s here) but not reducible to it. Oyler represents interiority, the act of thinking rather than the stability of thought, in all its twisting, turning glory ... Fiction isn’t sociology, and Fake Accounts does what Virginia Woolf, another critic-novelist, said fiction should: it represents the mind at work and at play, conveying the 'semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.'
Prolific essayist and blogger Oyler’s first foray into fiction seduces with its mesmerizing stream-of-consciousness and exploration of identity and authenticity, commitment and abandonment. Though not attaining the volume of cultural minutiae displayed in Lucy Ellman’s gargantuan Ducks, Newburyport (2019), Oyler’s similarly piercing examination of the paradoxically immersive superficiality of life lived in the thrall of social media is hefty in its own right, a case of both too much information and, ironically, not enough. Sure to resonate with the multitasking Millennials and Gen Z digerati.
... [a] bold debut ... Oyler experiments with various forms along the way: there is a lengthy parody of fragmented novels, copious analysis of millennial internet habits, literary references from Dickens to Ashbery to Ben Lerner, a Greek chorus of ex-boyfriends, and direct address to the reader. Oyler wields all these devices freely, creating a unique, ferociously modern voice. This incisive, funny work brilliantly captures the claustrophobia of lives led online and personae tested in the real world.
A mordant take on postmodern mores ... One way to describe this book is as a smart, often funny critique of a culture that rewards people for turning themselves into brands and encourages the incessant consumption and creation of content—and it is that. But it’s also a novel in which the reader is stuck inside the head of one very self-absorbed woman ... One’s ability to appreciate this novel will depend entirely on one’s interest in spending a whole lot of time with its narrator. Her sharpness and seeming self-awareness are engaging at first ... Not bad as social commentary. Not that great as a story.