Writing accurately about the internet feels like an impossible task – the endless stream of information that is increasingly hard to decipher or curate; the extreme vulnerability alongside a lack of authentic connection; the unexplainable and constantly morphing weirdness. With that being said, Patricia Lockwood’s novel, “No One Is Talking About This” (Penguin Random House, 2021), takes all of the vulgarity, seeming randomness, and existential dread of the internet and manages to successfully depict a world where “a person might join a site to look at pictures of her nephew and five years later believe in a flat earth.”
“No One Is Talking About This” follows an unnamed narrator, a woman who becomes famous on social media (referred to as “the portal”) by posting “can a dog be twins?” Her internet fame leads to invitations all over the world to speak to crowds “about the new communication, the new slipstream of information.” The vast majority of her day-to-day life is spent looking at the portal, posting to the portal, and occasionally pondering questions such as “why do we talk like this?” or “how will we explain this to our grandchildren?” Jumping between reactions of laughter, guilt, disgust, and confusion, the narrator regularly flip flops between thoughts and opinions, with observations such as “after you died…you would see a little pie chart that told you how much of your life had been spent in the shower arguing with people you had never met. Oh but like that was somehow less worthy than spending your time carefully monitoring the thickness of beaver houses for signs of the severity of the coming winter?”
Split into two parts, the novel’s first half focuses on this relationship to the internet and modern life. Made up entirely of short, loosely connected (or, more frequently, unconnected) blurbs that are anywhere from a sentence to a couple of paragraphs, the narrative reads like scrolling through a social media timeline – much is shared in each post, but a cohesive plot or overall connection doesn’t appear present. Part two takes a dramatic shift – while still maintaining the same general structure, the narrator’s focus zeroes in after receiving two urgent texts from her mother. Her sister’s pregnancy faces serious complications, and the narrator is yanked from the online world and abruptly dropped into the physical world around her.
While the seriousness of a family emergency to bring someone into the present moment could easily take the turn for the trite in a fictional story, the shift in “No One Is Talking About This” feels authentic – the heaviness of the situation is very present, but it’s met with love, humor, and sincerity. Writing about the internet proves to be challenging, but so does writing effectively about the world around us. In her new novel, Patricia Lockwood achieves both.
Check out “No One Is Talking About This” at your closest Denver Public Library location or as an ebook or eaudiobook through denverlibrary.com.
Hannah Evans is the senior librarian at the Smiley Branch of the Denver Public Library.