At times, this seems like a somewhat simple book about a disgraced influencer who starts a cult with her childhood best friend. When you step away from it and look at the balancing act McElroy pulled off though, you realize he pulled off the ultimate achievement of making something difficult look easy. McElroy throws so many balls in the air and keeps juggling, successfully introducing challenging and difficult elements to make this tight-rope walk of a book work.
The book begins with Sasha, a disgraced influencer, in hiding from a mob of people who are angry with her for “bullying” a follower into killing himself. Dyson, her beguiling childhood best friend, finally shows up and whisks her to New Jersey, where they resolve to begin a cult to rehabilitate men from toxic masculinity. To say much more would be to spoil it, and the less you know going in the better.
Sasha is not particularly likable, and somewhat Machiavellian, so it’s all the more impressive that McElroy makes her a sympathetic figure in the world he’s crafted. Part pseudo-dystopia, part magical realism, he imagines a world where men now gather in “hoardes” and, like zombies, engage in traditionally male activities that can be as innocuous as changing someone’s tires (against their will) to vandalizing and murdering people. This has left the men of America, especially the straight white ones, terrified they’ll hurt someone in one of the hoarding fugue states, and creates the opportunity for Sasha and Dyson to begin and cultivate their cult.
McElroy explores toxic masculinity in all the forms it can come in, and the way guilt and ambition intersect with it. It’s fascinating and strange to examine the way they look at masculinity, and all the ways in which it contributes to the ills of this particular world.
I highly recommend this book, but I do also want to caution a trigger warning for depictions of disordered eating and suicide.