No One Is Talking About This
December 4, 2021 7:17 AM - Subscribe

Patricia Lockwood's No One Is Talking About This is a compact, poetic, and partially autobiographical novel about the meeting point between Very Online Life and the brief and intense experience of her newborn niece living with, and dying of, Proteus Syndrome. There's the before, and then the life-altering texts--"Something has gone wrong" and "How soon can you get here?"--and the after, six months and a day of focus on one tiny life before its bell is stilled.

In the Before, the narrator lives mostly online. "She opened the portal, and the mind met her more than halfway. Inside, it was tropical and snowing, and the first flake of the blizzard of everything landed on her tongue and melted." The portal being the world inside the screen: "Close-ups and nail art, a pebble from outer space, a tarantula's compound eyes," and the cascade of random, delightful, and disturbing posts available with a few clicks, everything online that makes up "the bloodstream of the now."

But then--perched atop a Ferris wheel in Vienna--she receives the first hints that her sister's pregnancy has gone wrong. The rest of the book is about life, and death, and what she observes during her niece's brief time on earth.

Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize: "Patricia Lockwood’s sincere and delightfully profane love letter to the infinite scroll, and a meditation on love, language and human connection....As real life collides with the absurdity of the portal, she confronts a world that seems to suggest there is goodness, empathy and justice in the universe - and a deluge of evidence to the contrary."
posted by MonkeyToes (5 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Fresh off my first read, I wanted to talk about this book: the way it captures the sometimes absurd feeling of being online so much; the ways we use TikToks/memes/tweets as shorthand; the intrusion of a text bearing bad news (it made me think of that Ted Hughes poem: "Do not pick up the detonator of the telephone/A flame from the last day will come lashing out of the telephone/A dead body will fall out of the telephone"); the jolt of transition between the virtual real and the physicality of bodily illness; the way that Lockwood makes the reader an accomplice to the hi-jinks and a witness to sorrow.

If you're not Very Online, or never have been, the first half of the book might not land for you in the same way. Will it work for you? Here's a test: leg-washing, or no leg-washing? Are we in hell? Binch! NEVER SEND ME THE EGGPLANT AGAIN, MOM! Caucasianblink.gif. ("Her most secret pleasures were sentences that only half a percent of people on earth would understand, and that no one would be able to decipher at all in ten years.") The book seems like a lark, not a send-up of online life, but fragmentary mimicry of a slice of it--an insider's affectionate take that doesn't miss the daily absurdity of being there. IYKYK.

The sharp observational power behind that take is suddenly limited in its scope to one baby, diagnosed with an incurable developmental disease, and God, the impressionistic descriptions of medical appointments, and Lockwood watching herself trying to apply the frameworks of the portal to the increasingly bad news--it's just so heartbreaking. And not exactly because the subject matter is so hard, but because Lockwood's bursts of memory and story connect her to what's happening, and she tells the terrible alongside the absurd, and each fragment creates a piece of what it all felt like ("For whatever lives we lead they do prepare us for these moments."). There's tenderness and humanity here. There's a sense of mischief. There's grief. But what's most amazing to me is the switch from irony to sincerity, and maybe even hope, with respect to considering what it is to be alive and deeply connected.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:44 AM on December 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

This was absolutely a book for the Extremely Online. I really loved it (though the made up famous quote does not even begin to compare to Jail for mother for one thousand years).
They kept raising their hands excitedly to high-five, for they had discovered something even better than being soulmates: that they were exactly, and happily, and hopelessly, the same amount of online.
This part resonated.

And then -- the second half. It's really incredible as a book.
posted by jeather at 1:37 PM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

My Twitter-addled self really loved this book.
posted by rewil at 5:44 PM on December 4, 2021

Just read this and loved it. Style and insight is a powerful combination.
posted by kyrademon at 4:13 AM on December 10, 2021

I didn't know much about this book beforehand and read it along with Jami Attenberg's All Grown Up. The two books turned out to be companion pieces, in a way.
posted by tangerine at 3:43 PM on January 13, 2023

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