Condemned out of her own mouth.
In a fairly unenthusiastic review of Jia Tolentino’s book of essays Trick Mirror in the LRB of January 2020, Lauren Oyler says,
What seems evident to me is that public writing is always at least a little bit self-interested, demanding, controlling and delusional, and that it’s the writer’s responsibility to add enough of something else to tip the scales away from herself.
Her novel Fake Accounts is out now, and has she managed to give her protagonist that ‘something else ‘ ? In a word, no.
The life of her nameless protagonist has many parallels to her own. They both live between America and Berlin, they have both had jobs writing for on-line magazines, and they both have public photos of themselves with faces hidden behind tousled curls. So, to some extent one takes it that the views expressed, or the life lived, somehow are aligned with those of the author. Although one must remember, her book is all about lies, and how easy it is to tell them via social media.
This narcissistic young woman, whose constant preoccupation is how she is coming across, and how she can use everyone she meets to her own advantage, chats up a man while on holiday in Berlin. This becomes a relationship. Felix, the man in question, moves to America, but they do not live together. They have a strange relationship, partly sexual, partly combative. The thrill is ebbing when she sneaks a look at his closely guarded phone one night. There she finds he runs an alt-Right website full of conspiracy theories about the involvement of the F B I in the Twin Tower bombing; all the usual stuff. This interests her, mildly, because these are not views he expresses to her. But she has decided to terminate their relationship and is just deciding how to do it when he makes what could only be described as a pre-emptive move. The outcome of this is revealed at the end of the book and is quite predictable.
How is the novel structured? Firstly, the meeting in Berlin and the events discussed above, which is preceded by a general riff on the state of the world, seeing Trump has just been elected. I must say the numbers of adverbs here made me feel a little nervous
…we were transitioning from an only retrospectively easy past to an inarguably more difficult future; we were, it could no longer be denied, unstoppably bad.
The two sections called Middle are about her trip to join a Woman’s march in Washington. This is a short article on the experience, not adding much to her story. She tells us how crowded the trains are, how she can’t get a coffee at lunchtime. She stays with a friend and resigns her job. He then tells her his mother is coming to stay so she has to move on.
Somehow, she gets to Berlin, although she can’t really say why she is there. It is certainly not to learn German or to meet people unlike those she already knows.
The last two sections I found deeply tedious. Here is an example
Going out with strangers I found on the internet quickly became the only activity I pursued with much regularity or vigour, not only because I lacked the vim for regularity or vigour but also because getting people from the internet to go on dates with you was harder than my initial experience suggested. Because I was dedicated to going on many of them, I ended up using the morning hours I’d previously spent reading social media in bed to message potential dates on OkCupid
And there is, under every star sign, an account of a meeting she has had with a person from the dating site.
These encounters are all on the same lines; she meets someone, spins a story about a fake persona, somehow they don’t hit it off, end of story. There are many of these.
I guess many younger people (Oyler is thirty-two) spend an inordinate amount of time on social media, and she certainly brings out the narcissism that keeps it going. I’m just not sure I wanted to read quite so much about it .