The Novelist follows a young man over the course of a single morning as he fails to write an autobiographical novel about his heroin addiction and recovery, finding himself drawn into the infinite spaces of Twitter, quotidian rituals, and his own mind.
A more annoying premise for a book is, frankly, hard to imagine. And yet, here I am, recommending it. What’s good about a novel with a plotline so insipid it borders on openly hostile? Well, for starters, it’s funny—a rare and cherishable quality in contemporary literature ... It also contains some of the most accurate—and accurately abject—depictions of the experience of using the internet ever captured in fiction ... establishes Castro as a psychologically precise chronicler of life online ... these acidic tangents about the state of online discourse are stingingly exact ... While the "Internet novel" is now its own subgenre, it’s still rare to see these commonplace experiences of being online rendered quite so realistically, with an eye toward the unflattering, humiliating, and true ... People often dismiss writing tightly focused on the self as 'navel-gazing,' but the flamboyant, defiant solipsism of Castro’s protagonist isn’t quite that. If anything, 'anus-gazing' would be a more appropriate descriptor, considering the narrator is pooping, thinking about poop, or emailing his friend about poop for a remarkably large portion of the novel. All the scatalogical talk blends together with all the screen-time descriptions—sometimes the protagonist is both pooping and browsing Instagram—suggesting a connection: In the end, it’s all the same shit.
Compact, brilliant, and very funny ... Determinedly accurate and not a little uncanny ... If all of this sounds a little grim, it is. Kind of ... But also it’s exuberant, light at all the right times, and very, very funny. Castro closely catalogs nearly every step of his narrator’s writing process ... The Novelist pays explicit homage to its major influences ... The Novelist finds its comedy in the new self-hobbling patterns spawned by social media. Which are not exceptional for Castro, or for his novelist. Perhaps this is why the novel is so affecting. We know its sting. We are complicit. Technology is taking our attention, too.
What’s incredible is not that Castro keeps this up for the entirety of the book, but how well it works ... The Novelist’s observations about using social media are accurate, but where the novel really exceeds the standard criticism is in turning this distraction into the drumbeat of modern life, on top of which a compelling guy riffs about life, literature, and pooping ... Castro has an ear for comic timing and eye for the kind of observations that linger just below consciousness ... uses what could be a tedious framework to unfurl a poignant backstory about a sensitive kid who struggled with addiction, got in trouble with the police, and got sober, while still struggling with the fundamental questions of how to live and be an artist.