Like anyone interested in books and not living under a rock, I heard many great things about this book last year. And so it was with great excitement that I picked this book up from the library as it finally became available. It rose to the top of my TBR pile just as school was resuming, so this book was my constant companion as we endured the first week back after break and the “will we? won’t we?” as we endure year 3 of teaching in a pandemic and contemplated pivoting to virtual school … again.
Anyway, that isn’t relevant to the text at all, except to say that this book was ultimately deserving of the hype heaped upon it (unlike, in my opinion, one of its peers, Matrix, which I felt was a tad bit overhyped). The novel is split into two parts – in the first, the narrator explores what it is like to be essentially living with / in/ amid The Portal – ubiquitous social media. Lockwood does an amazing job of describing that sensation when you realize the things you’ve been doing because they are ironic become … sincerely who you? Such a part of yourself that you cannot separate the ironic feelings from the genuine ones? I haven’t had this experience specifically with social media – I’m the sort of middle aged person who still reads Facebook posts but can’t quite wrap my head around how to use most of the other platforms- but I fully understand this phenomenon.
And then, in the second half, the book shifts – suddenly, this is a book about the most real thing – a child, her niece, is diagnosed in utero with a syndrome not compatible with full life. The little girl lives 6 months, and in those months, the narrator is touched, irrevocably changed, and yet still amid THE PORTAL and its trappings. The way that she writes about family relationships is so relatable – the fierce love and deep pain of loving other people is just a lot to bear sometimes. Every human has their own trajectory, and that is beautiful, mysterious, frustrating, and occasionally tragic. In 2019, my sister’s daughter was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor – what followed were months of brain surgeries and extended hospital stays. She is recovering and managing what will be a life-long condition today, but I felt Lockwood did a wonderful job of describing what it feels like to be an aunt in that situation. To watch your sister watch her daughter fight for her life, to become a hospital person for a few months – it’s a unique experience. It invites contemplation about humanity in its best moments, and we are so lucky to have authors like Lockwood who can channel those experiences into something that can touch us all.