Sometimes you just want to read a book with a plot. You know, the kind where people meet, go places, fall in love, fight, fall out of love, even die – a good, old-fashioned story. Jordan Castro’s new novel, boldly titled The Novelist, is emphatically not a good old-fashioned story. Even calling The Novelist a novel is a joke. “I opened my laptop,” the narrator says in the opening lines, and those first four words are the beginning, middle, and end of the story. The winking title was the right choice: the man who opened his laptop doesn’t sound quite the same.
Set in one morning, The Novelist follows an unnamed writer snooping on social media while his girlfriend sleeps in their apartment; he occasionally plays with ongoing novels in Google Docs. That is it. The first 16 pages describe the main character watching Twitter minute by minute, with meaningless thoughts like “my Twitter was terrible – Twitter in general was terrible.” Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a more annoying premise for a book. And yet, here I am, recommending it. What’s good about a novel with a storyline so tacky it borders on overtly hostile? Well, for starters, it’s funny – a rare and valuable feature in contemporary literature.
It also features some of the most accurate — and accurately abject — depictions of the experience of using the Internet ever captured in fiction. There is a tangent in The Novelist where the narrator remembers a popular girl from his high school named Ashley. He finds her on Facebook and clicks through her digital photos. Moving quickly, almost frantically, as if trying to complete an urgent task, I navigated back to Ashley’s profile and clicked on her headline photo: a group of rich-looking petite women and fat men, all white, dressed in dresses and high heels or blazers. and partially unbuttoned button-ups, crammed together on a rooftop, a skyline I didn’t recognize behind it.I did recognize some of the people in the photo.Or so I thought – when I moved the cursor over their faces and bodies, the names were appeared unrecognizable to me,” the narrator thinks, before daydreaming about how these people he may or may not know may or may not be. “I imagined arguing about racism with one of the fat men in the picture,” he continues, studying Ashley’s social milieu like an amateur sleuth. This passage, I suspect, will resonate, I suspect, with anyone who has ever let an hour or two wander off playing detective about ouboll acquaintances on Facebook, and it makes Castro a psychologically accurate chronicler of life online.
Thanks to Soft Skull
In a wobbly middle finger to anyone who might mistake The Novelist for autofiction, Castro invents a bizarre version of himself for the narrator to become obsessed with, a literary semi-celebrity who has become a bogeyman of the left-wing internet despite not doing anything. morally reprehensible has said. This fictional Jordan Castro writes a novel, which is then sucked into the gears of an online outrage cycle, giving the author a chance to riff on how silly so-called progressive media can be: “The narrator of one of Jordan Castro’s novels was an amateur. bodybuilder, and the novel, for being released when the culture had a “bill of toxic masculinity,” was harshly received by many, who variously described it as “fascist,” “protofascist,” “fatphobic,” or, oddly enough, ‘not what we need now.’ Within a few weeks, reviews had been written with titles like “We Read Jordan Castro’s Body Novel, So You Don’t Have To” and “Jordan Castro’s Fitness Privilege,” which were not so much about the book’s literary qualities as about its content. the effect it might actually have, because of the supposed hidden meaning in some sentences.As with the description of wormholes on social media, these sour tangents about the state of online discourse are extremely accurate.
Although the ‘internet novel’ is now its own sub-genre, it is still rare to see these everyday experiences of being online so realistically rendered, with an eye to the unflattering, humiliating and truthful. The best of the recent ‘Internet novels’, Patricia’s Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This captures the sensibility of an extreme online mind, but its fragmented style and playful, absurdist language create an impressionistic portrait – there’s no arguing about typing in it, for example. a wrong password or the impulse to delete Facebook after losing an afternoon to it. The novelist, on the other hand, has an everyday, blog-like quality. Castro, a poet and former editor of New York Tyrant Magazine, has alt-lit allegiances (he thanks Tao Lin in the acknowledgments), and excerpts from his protagonist’s actual story about a morning wasted on social media would’ It was in, say, 2011 out of place in Thought Catalog. (Although now often associated with discarded personal essays, in its early days Thought Catalog was a frequent publisher of alt-lit voices such as Tao Lin, Megan Boyle, and Castro himself.)
People often dismiss self-centered writing as “navel-gazing,” but Castro’s protagonist’s flamboyant, provocative solipsism isn’t quite that. If anything, “anus staring” would be a more apt description, as the narrator is either pooping, thinking about poop, or emailing his friend about poop for a remarkably large part of the novel. (The novelist must have a record for the longest description of toilet paper-wiping techniques in fiction.) All the scatalog talk mingles with all the descriptions of screen time—sometimes the main character is both pooping and browsing Instagram— which suggests a connection: in the end, it’s all the same shit.