Booker 2021: Social Media and the Sublime in Patricia Lockwood’s Debut, Arts News & Top Stories
Nobody talks about it
By Patricia Lockwood
Bloomsbury / Paperback / 210 pages / $ 26.95 / Available here
4 out of 5
A woman known for her viral social media posts opens what she calls “the portal,” where people ask, “Are we all going to keep doing this until we die?” Are we in hell?
Patricia Lockwood, the American author of the acclaimed memoir Priestdaddy (2017), ponders in her debut novel about social media addiction.
This book is likely to polarize. Its fragmentary form mimics the “endless scrolling” of a social media feed and can leave some readers frustrated with a few pages.
The anonymous narrator, who rose to fame for articles like “Can A Dog Be Twins?”, Travels the world to talk about her fame, which is intrinsic to her fans and inexplicable to everyone.
Lockwood, who herself is something of a Twitter luminary herself, captures with ironic poetry the absurd chaos of existence online, especially against the backdrop of a real world on the brink of collapse.
“Couldn’t he see her arms full of the sapphires of the moment?” thinks the narrator. “Didn’t he realize that a feminist posted a picture of her nipple that day?”
It’s all pretty funny and a little too familiar, but even the most savvy social media reader will, after a while, start to wonder what the point of it all is.
Next comes the volta in the middle of the novel, when the narrator receives a sudden and terrible news about her sister’s pregnancy gone bad. The baby was born with Proteus syndrome, a rare genetic condition that is unlikely to survive.
What Lockwood achieves here is an astonishing, prismatic shift in perspective, as the baby leads the narrator to reassess his entire worldview.
It is not just a litany of suffering, although the novel never shies away from the tragedy of the situation. He throbs with immense and unbearable love for the child.
“I would have done it for a million years,” says the narrator’s sister. “I would have woken up every morning and given him 13 drugs. There is no relief. I would have done it forever.”
The way this novel transforms its substance from the superficial to the subliminal is astounding. Do not exceed this one.
If you like it, read: The Living Sea Of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus, 2021, $ 27.95, Available here). In a world on the brink of ecological collapse, parts of people’s bodies are starting to disappear as they seek refuge in virtual realms.