Sometimes just want to read a book with a plot. You know, the kind where people meet each other, go places, fall in love, fight, fall out of love, even die– a good, old-fashioned story. Jordan Castro’s new novel with a cheeky title The novelist, is emphatically not a good, old-fashioned story. Even calling The novelist a novel at all is a gag. “I opened my laptop,” the narrator says in the introductory lines, and the first four words are the beginning, middle, and end of its narrative. The flashing title was the right choice: The guy who opened his laptop does not have quite the same ring.
The novelist takes place over a single morning, following an unnamed writer as he tumbles around on social media while his girlfriend sleeps in their apartment; he occasionally messes with novels running in Google Docs. That is it. The first 16 pages describe the protagonist looking at Twitter in detail minute by minute, thinking crazy thoughts like “my Twitter was awful – Twitter was generally awful.” A more annoying premise for a book is honestly hard to imagine. And yet, here I am, and recommend it. What’s good about a novel with a plot line that is so bold that it borders on overtly hostile? Well, to begin with, it’s fun – a rare and valued quality in contemporary literature.
It also contains some of the most accurate – and exactly eerie – 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 posts her on Facebook and clicks through her digital photographs. “I was moving fast, almost hectically, as if trying to complete an urgent task, navigating back to Ashley’s profile and clicking on her headline image: a group of wealthy little women and fat men, all white, wearing dresses and high heels or blazers and partially unbuttoned buttons that stood crammed together on a roof, a skyline I did not recognize behind them. However, I recognized some of the people in the picture. At least I thought I did – when I moved the cursor over their faces and bodies, the names that appeared were unrecognizable to me, “the narrator thinks before daydreaming about how these people, he might or might do not know, can or may not be. . “I imagined I was going to argue about racism with one of the fat men in the picture,” he continues, examining Ashley’s social environment as an amateur mirror. This passage will, I suppose, resonate with anyone who has ever let an hour or two drive by playing detective over corny acquaintances on Facebook, and it establishes Castro as a psychologically accurate chronicler of life online.
In a wiggling middle finger to anyone who might make a mistake The novelist for autofiction, Castro invents a bizarre version of himself that the narrator may become obsessed with, a literary semi-celebrity who has become a bogeyman for the left-leaning internet despite the fact that he did not actually say anything morally offensive. This fictional Jordan Castro writes a novel, which is then sucked into the gears of an online outrage cycle, giving the author an opportunity to riff about how skewed so-called progressive media can be: “The narrator in one of Jordan Castro’s novels was an amateur bodybuilder, and the novel was, due to its publication, as the culture had a ‘showdown with toxic masculinity’, received harshly by many, who described it differently as ‘fascist’, ‘protofascist’, ‘fat-phobic’ or, curious , ‘not what we need right now.’ Within a few weeks, reviews had been written with titles such as ‘We Read Jordan Castro’s body novel so you do not have to’ and ‘Jordan Castro’s Fitness Privilege’, which was not so much about the book’s literary qualities as with the effect it can have in fact, because of supposedly hidden meaning in some of the sentences. “As with the description of social media wormholes, these sour tangents about the state of online discourse are stingingly accurate.
While “the Internet novel ”is now its own subgenre, it is still rare to see these common experiences of being rendered online quite so realistically, with an eye towards the unflattering, humiliating and true. The finest of the latest “internet novels”, Patricias Lockwoods Nobody talks about thiscaptures the sensitivity of an extremely online mind, but its fragmented style and playful, absurdist language create an impressionistic portrait – there is no discussion about, for example, entering a password incorrectly or the impulse to delete Facebook after losing an afternoon to it . The novelist, on the other hand, has a quotidian, bloggy quality. Castro, a poet and former editor of New York Tyrant Magazinehave alt-lit fidelity (he thanks Tao Lin in the acknowledgments), and excerpts from his protagonist’s factual tale of a morning tossed away on social media would not have been misplaced on Thought Catalog in, for example, 2011. (Although it is now often associated with forged personal essays, Thought Catalog was in his early years a frequent publisher of all-enlightened voices such as Tao Lin, Megan Boyle and Castro himself.)
People often refuse to write tightly focused on the self as “navel-gazing,” but the flamboyant, defiant solipsism of Castro’s protagonist is not quite so. If anything, “anus-stirring” would be a more appropriate description, given that the narrator is popping, thinking about poop, or sending an email to his friend about poop for a remarkably large portion of the novel. (The novelist must have some sort of record for the longest description of toilet paper drying techniques in fiction.) All the cataloging talk mixes with all the descriptions of screen time – sometimes the main character is both poope and browsing Instagram – suggests a connection: In the end, it’s the same shit.