Sarah’s Book Corner: “No One is Talking About This”

Patricia Lockwood’s genre-defying novel addresses the complexities of being extremely online through humor, wit, and meandering prose.

In her debut novel “No One Is Talking About This,” poet and memoirist Patricia Lockwood refers to the internet and all its various iterations as “the portal” — a morally-destitute landscape in which individual consciousness is replaced with collective thinking. Lockwood’s portal is emblematic of the culture created by social media and our insistence on digital connection. The novel’s unnamed narrator is deeply immersed in the portal, using it as a medium to navigate looming existential threats of loneliness, climate change, and the pernicious rise of a political leader nicknamed “the dictator.” The interconnectedness of the portal belies its disastrous implications on real-life human connection: when the narrator is faced with personal tragedy, she struggles to reconcile her online persona with her proximity to trauma. Deeply existential, Lockwood’s novel interrogates modern existence and our overreliance on social media platforms.

Dubbed the “poet laureate of Twitter,” Lockwood is intimately familiar with the volatility of internet fame. Her viral poem “Rape Joke” propelled her into the upper echelons of millennial authorship and solidified her role as a de-facto authority on internet culture. Lockwood expresses such familiarity with online trends throughout “No One Is Talking About This.” She speaks the language of the zeitgeist, substituting long, protracted sentences for outbursts that are commensurate with the punchiness and informality of Twitter discourse. This fragmented prose is most apparent in the first half of the novel when the narrator enjoys internet stardom for her viral tweet, “Can a dog be twins?” Rather than disavow the trappings of online existence, Lockwood embraces them. She revels in the levity of Twitter humor, participating in the full dimensions of the internet to which she owes her cultural relevance.

Where the first half of the novel ambles in its revelations of internet culture, the latter is exacting in its depiction of interpersonal relationships. A deeply personal reckoning ensues when the narrator’s niece is diagnosed with Proteus syndrome — a rare condition of skull and limb overgrowth, most recognizable as the malady afflicting Merrick the Elephant Man. The narrator’s internal turmoil addresses a set of questions central to the coexistence of humanity and social media: What, if not the incessant chatter of internet interactions, constitutes real life? And more poignantly: How does one maintain a presence in the real world while still satisfying the perverse need to be constantly online?

The traditional structure of the literary novel and its emphasis on intelligible plot is insufficient when addressing such existentialism. In the attention economy of the internet —   where a seemingly inoffensive “substitute of guacamole” animates a flock of aggressive Twitter commentators — so little makes sense. Lockwood’s non-substantive digressions are difficult to comprehend partly because the internet itself is befuddling. “No One Is Talking About This” addresses our unexplainable desire to stay connected online by co-opting the lexicon of online culture. Littered throughout the novel are references to recent internet trends; in the beginning of the book, Lockwood combines the verve of Twitter slang with larger apocalyptic preoccupations in a digression where the narrator remarks, “SHOOT IN MY VEINS, we said, when the Flat Earth Society announced it had members all over the globe.” Lockwood’s kaleidoscopic prose offers a lens, however nebulous, through which we are able to reckon with our own contributions to vacuous internet dialogue.

“No One Is Talking About This” is a novel about our fraught relationship with social media, the futile search for recognition on the internet, and the toll of excessive screen time on our ability to empathize. For all of her premonitions, Lockwood does not end her novel without offering a hopeful model of existence. By the end of the book, the narrator finds respite from the portal by re-discovering the joys of human existence with her newborn niece — they experiment with various musical instruments, traverse through Disneyland, and take comfort in the embrace of a fluffy dog. Only by fostering an intimate relationship with the baby is the narrator finally able to dull the enticing murmurs of the portal. To resist the gravitational pull of the internet, Lockwood asserts, is to express our innate capacity for love and empathy.

Grade: A-
Author: Patricia Lockwood
Published: Feb. 16, 2021

Image courtesy of Time Magazine.

One thought on “Sarah’s Book Corner: “No One is Talking About This”

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