I knew nothing about this book when I bought it. I saw it on a list of new releases, thought the cover looked kind of cool, and added it to my cart from my local book store. I had never heard of Patricia Lockwood, had no idea what kind of writer she was (SPOILER ALERT: I STILL DON’T REALLY KNOW), and didn’t know anything about the plot.
I started it, struggled hard with the format and writing style, and put it down. The streaming train of thought and lack of the regular book structure — paragraphs, chapters, plot — made it hard for me to stick with.
Then I saw Vel Veeter’s review and decided to give it another try, and am glad I did. This strange little plotless book ended up bringing me to tears.
Our narrator earns her living by being some sort of internet/twitter/meme guru. There is something called “the portal” which seems like a combo of twitter and YouTube and virtual reality, and people are completely addicted to it, spending more time “in” it than in their real lives. The narrator (I’ll call her “she”) once made a joke in the portal that got a ton of likes and turned her into a mini portal celebrity.
Once I got used to the way Lockwood was telling the story, I tore through it. Commentary on everything: how social media created MAGA, on celebrity and cancel culture, on length of the news cycle, and the hive mind that the internet has created.
Her references are random and from all walks of pop culture. For instance, after a police-related incident:
“Every fiber in her being strained. She was trying to hate the police.
‘Start small and work your way up,’ her therapist suggested. ‘Start by hating Officer Big Mac, a class traitor who is keeping the other residents of McDonaldland from getting the sandwiches that they need, and who when the revolution comes will have the burger of his head eaten for his crimes.’ But this insight produced in her only a fresh wave of discouragement. Her therapist was more radical than her?”
So weird. This is a world where going viral is the most important achievement someone can make.
I would have happily kept reading the strange societal observations for a few hundred more pages, but halfway through the book, the story changed. And reader, I did not expect this.
Her sister gets pregnant, but (and this is not a spoiler) something goes wrong. This suddenly becomes a story about unconditional love, living live to the fullest — particularly outside of the portal, and grief. She and her sister and their extended family go through hell, but make sure to remember and appreciate every detail and every minute. The feelings and emotions she has are all real and raw — and hers. There is no hive mind in this grief.
This passage really moved me. It was both ridiculous and heartbreaking:
“The things she wanted the baby to know seemed small, so small. How it felt to to to a grocery store on vacation; to wake at three a.m. and run your whole life through your fingertips; first library card; new lipstick; a toe going numb for two months because you wore borrowed shoes to a friend’s wedding; Thursday; October; “She’s Like the Wind” in a dentist’s office; driver’s license picture where you look like a killer, getting your bathing suit back on after you go to the bathroom; touching a cymbal for sound and then touching it again for silence; playing house in the refrigerator box; letting a match burn down to the fingerprints; one hand in the Scrabble bag and the IIIOUEA; eyes racing to the end of the Villette (skid the parts about the cretin, sweetheart); hamburger wrappers on a road trip; the twist of a heavy red apple in an orchard; word on the tip of the tongue; the portal, but just for a minute.”
The ending of this book absolutely destroyed me. I wept. But in between the tragedy and the sadness, I still laughed at some of her commentary.
“After the meeting, she wandered through what looked like a gift show, full of brass urns and memorial collages, pocket watches and Swarovski roses, granite slabs sandblasted with the faces of bygone Lindas.”
Will I read another Patricia Lockwood? I have no idea. I’m not much for poetry or memoirs, so we’ll see. But I’m quite glad I read this.