Ironically, I became acquainted with the fiction and literary criticism of Lauren Oyler, whose debut novel Fake Accounts shows the osmosis between online and real experience, through Twitter. Avoiding class, I was sitting in a Pret A Manger in South London that gave off the same sterile, inhumane aura that all Pret A Mangers have. I caught myself unable to move from my seat, stuck in a dopamine–driven feedback loop of refreshing Twitter, making an audacious tweet, seeing who favorited it, deleting it and hoping a particular person saw it.
At some point, I found a post from my much older internet friend, who was talking about the polarizing response to Oyler’s new piece in the London Review of Books. Her critique of Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror left every woman in his graduate school either writhing in anger or beaming with absolute joy. Intrigued, I’ve followed Oyler’s work ever since. Anyone who can incite such a visceral reaction from others must be worth reading, if just once.
Oyler has made a name for herself writing viral takedowns of big names in the Anglo–American literary and media intelligentsia. From towering figures like Roxane Gay to Zadie Smith, no one is exempt from her scrutiny. Often, Oyler’s commentary reads like a thread of incisive, brutal tweets. She opens her critique of Gay’s Bad Feminist with “I have always hated Roxane Gay’s writing, though I often agree with her, sort of, inasmuch as that is possible.” She later terms the moral platitudes found in such authors' works as "hysterical criticism." Rather than actually voicing clear stances, these writers highlight the primacy of empathy and emotions, which Oyler believes allows them to "to avoid the discomfort of thought and the stakes involved in taking a position."
In a sense, it's much easier to refer back to, or cash in on, your lived experiences and traumas than overtly say what you mean. Oyler's frankness is refreshing in a climate so averse to questioning the views of self–proclaimed progressive allies of the culture war. Though many may be unfamiliar with her work, Fake Accounts offers a novel understanding of human intimacy in the age of social media, the American political decline, and fourth–wave feminism that holds relevance for any young person.
The book follows Oyler’s semi–autobiographical female protagonist who finds out her boyfriend, Felix, secretly runs an Instagram account called @THIS_ACCOUNT_IS_BUGGED_, which functions as a treasure trove of conspiratorial, QAnon–esque content. Outside of his pizzagate extremism, Felix, a spiritually hollow though charming misanthrope, reluctantly works a menial tech job, which he believes takes too much time away from his 'art.' He is the archetypal 'New Brooklyn Guy,' a certain egocentric, downwardly mobile layabout who either has no ambition or no talent. Sometimes, it’s difficult to distinguish the former from the latter.
Tellingly, our heroine isn’t necessarily horrified by Felix’s double life. Instead, this revelation brings amusement and a sense of excitement to her otherwise banal life as a clickbait writer. After sifting through his feed, she feels like she has found a definitive reason to finally break up with him. But instead of calling it quits, she revels in the knowledge that “he was no mere betrayer of trust or casual manipulator, but rather a person of impossible complexity whose motivations [she] was liberated from untangling."
The alienation in their shared lives somehow gains meaning. Instead of having to actually deal with the psychology of her partner, she can enjoy the “weightless feeling of righteousness” that can only come from knowing that your smug boyfriend believes that Hillary Clinton is a lizard. What follows in the subsequent chapters of Oyler's story is the consequence of such faulty logic, a kind of thinking that many of us have fallen prey to. Our irony should never reach the point of total and utter apathy, despite the absurdity of the world.
While characters beyond the unnamed protagonist and Felix appear and disappear in the first–person narration, Oyler’s writing creates the feeling that we are moving through an infinitely long finsta, in which individuals only matter in so much as their essence can be crammed into a single post. Oyler remains attentive to the fact that we are trapped in our respective feedback loops and her prose reflects it.
The form of her novel shows how the excess of different media forms, like Twitter, seep into our imaginaries. Like the writer Melissa Broder, she has managed to put pen to an emerging literary style. Though I don’t believe that she imagines a way out of our algorithm–driven inferno, Fake Accounts captures the post–2016 milieu with caustic wit and grace.
You can find her novel on Catapult.