As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms “the portal,” where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats–from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness–begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void. An avalanche of images, details, and references accumulate to form a landscape that is post-sense, post-irony, post-everything. “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?”
Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: “Something has gone wrong,” and “How soon can you get here?” As real life and its stakes collide with the increasingly absurd antics of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.
Fragmentary and omniscient, incisive and sincere, No One Is Talking About This is at once a love letter to the endless scroll and a profound, modern meditation on love, language, and human connection from a singular voice in American literature.
This felt like the perfect encapsulation of life online, and living through the Trump years. Being of a similar age to the author, I found a lot rang true.
I made the mistake of finishing this at a park, and tears were welling up in my eyes so every time I blinked tears flicked onto my kindle.
“It was in this place where we were on the verge of losing our bodies that bodies became the most important, it was in this place of the great melting that it became important whether you called it pop or soda growing up, or whether your mother cooked with garlic salt or the real chopped cloves, or whether you had actual art on your walls or posed pictures of your family sitting on logs in front of fake backdrops…”
“For as long as she read the news, line by line and minute by minute, she had some say in what happened, didn’t she? She had to have some say in what happened, even if it was only WHAT? Even if it was only HEY!”
“It was a place where she knew what was going to happen, it was a place where she would always choose the right side, where the failure was in history and not herself, where she did not read the wrong writers, was not seized with surges of enthusiasm for the wrong leaders, did not eat the wrong animals, cheer at bullfights, call little kids Pussy as a nickname, believe in fairies or mediums or spirit photography, blood purity or manifest destiny or night air, did not lobotomize her daughters or send her sons to war, where she was not subject to the swells and currents and storms of the mind of the time…”
“Her most secret pleasures were sentences that only half a percent of people on earth would understand, and that no one would be able to decipher at all in ten years…”
“He did not have this problem, this metastasis of the word next, the word more. He took only as much as he needed of something, and that was enough…”
“Of course when the eclipse came, the dictator stared directly into it, as if to say that nature had no dominion over him either.”
“Whole subcultures sprang up on boards where people met to talk about their candida overgrowth.”
“A picture of a new species of tree frog that had recently been discovered. Scientists speculated that the reason it had never before been seen was because, quote, “It is covered with warts and it wants to be left alone.”
“Other things slipped down, and the fast river of the mind closed over them so she forgot they had ever been ubiquitous.”
“And sometimes, as she saw the faces, her thumb would trace the line of the nose, the mouth, the eyes, as if to memorize someone who was not here anymore, who she knew about only because they had been disappeared.”
“What, in place of these sentences, marched in the brains of previous generations? Folk rhymes about planting turnips, she guessed.”
“White people, who had the political educations of potatoes—lumpy, unseasoned, and biased toward the Irish—were suddenly feeling compelled to speak out about injustice. This happened once every forty years on average, usually after a period when folk music became popular again. When folk music became popular again, it reminded people that they had ancestors, and then, after a considerable delay, that their ancestors had done bad things.”
“In contrast with her generation, which had spent most of its time online learning to code so that it could add crude butterfly animations to the backgrounds of its weblogs, the generation immediately following had spent most of its time online making incredibly bigoted jokes in order to laugh at the idiots who were stupid enough to think they meant it. Except after a while they did mean it, and then somehow at the end of it they were Nazis. Was this always how it happened?”
“Why were we all writing like this now? Because a new kind of connection had to be made, and blink, synapse, little space-between was the only way to make it. Or because, and this was more frightening, it was the way the portal wrote.”
“SHOOT IT IN MY VEINS, we said, when the Flat Earth Society announced it had members all over the globe.”
“It had also once been the place where you sounded like yourself. Gradually it had become the place where we sounded like each other…”
““I know what you’re going through,” she said silently to the baby, “but sometimes you’ll be scrolling along, and NASA will post a picture of the stars.””
“Winter still, and a once-in-a-lifetime moon, but she had to go outside to see it. Since that was out of the question, she watched the moon rise up slowly in the portal, shining down with its awful benevolence in the backyards of beloved strangers…”
“She hoped the twenty-four online IQ tests she had taken were wrong. They had to be.”
““Have you heard from ____ lately?” her mother asked on the phone, and invoked the specter of a classmate who had escaped, who was nowhere to be found in any of the places where you typed in names.”
“YOU HAVE A NEW MEMORY, her phone announced, and played a slideshow of her trying to get a good picture of her butt in a hotel bathroom…”
“Already it was becoming impossible to explain things she had done even the year before, why she had spent hypnotized hours of her life…”
“The way, when she was gone from it, she thought so longingly of My information. Oh, my answers. Oh, my everything I never knew I needed to know.“
“She was handling it well, even though some mornings she put her bra on inside-out and it seemed too hard to fix, so she just sat there staring at the news in an inside-out bra. She was handling it just fine, even though her face had been replaced by one question mark after another question mark after another question mark…”
“what a time to be quote unquote alive“
“On the television in the NICU waiting room, a report that the dictator had finally gone too far. The next day, on the television in the NICU waiting room, a report that no he hadn’t, and in fact that it was no longer possible to go too far.”
“They kept raising their hands excitedly to high-five, for they had discovered something even better than being soulmates: that they were exactly, and happily, and hopelessly, the same amount of online.”
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