The Follies of our Time

Over the past few years, or even the past decade, it cannot be denied that social media has become an essential part of our existence. From a mere device designed to connect the world, social media has turned into a part and parcel of our daily lives. Its significance has exponentially evolved in a matter of years. It is no longer just a tool to connect us to the rest of the world but it has also transformed into a primary means of gather news and information. It has become a forum where we exchange thoughts, ideas and opinions, unbound by the formalities of intellectual exchanges. For some, social media is a means to escape the stresses of everyday life, a conduit where we rant or complain to a general public only too unwilling to take interest in the plights of others. These are just some manifold manifestations of how social media is taking reins of our lives.

Our growing dependence on social media is palpable in every facet our lives. Unfortunately, this dependence does come with its own price. As its influence creeps ever more forward, it remains a subject many of us are reluctant to dwell in. We insist, rather, we remain adamant that social media is a mere distraction and not a way of life. But with the growing prevalence of social media in every facet of our lives – from politics, to science, to education, to crime – makes it all the more imperative for us to reassess its role in our lives and in the society as a whole. In Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This, the readers were implored to reexamine how social media has slowly taken over their lives.

Herself a muse of the social media otherworld, Lockwood took a deep dive into the adverse impacts of social media on every facet of our lives. At the center of the narrative is an anonymous young woman who has achieved what many of us yearn for in this time and age of growing social media presence: unmatched popularity and vast social media mileage. Her rise to prominence was sparked by an innocuous, almost naïve post which simply stated: “Can a dog be twins?” To borrow a popular term in contemporary parlance, the post instantly became viral (a sensation if you may), with teenagers sharing it, and accompanying it with the cry-face emoji.

“But then, almost as a serious laugh, a strength entered her voice and she stood like a tree with a spirit in it, and she opened a portal where her mouth was and spoke better than she ever had before, and as she rushed like blood back and forth in the real artery she saw that ancestors weren’t just behind, they were the ones who were to come.”

~Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This

Overnight, the novel’s anonymous primary protagonist rose to prominence. As her fanbase exponentially grew, she started embarking on journeys to different parts of the world, from Australia to New Zealand, to Ireland to Jamaica, in order to meet her fans. Her growing popularity made her an essential part of conferences, hence, the invitations to speak and be part of these forums. All the while, she was also trying the find the equilibrium in the vacuum of a world she started referring to as “the portal”. The portal, with its own set of language and norms, was a foreign world that she was trying to navigate. Despite its foreignness, the pull of the portal was irresistible and, as her familiarity with the portal grew, it has turned into a place that she inhabited. It was something that most of us can easily relate to.

Shortlisted for both the 2021 Booker Prize and the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction, No One Is Talking About This was divided into distinct parts. The first part primarily concerned itself with the protagonist’s journeys, both across the world and in the portal. As a homage to the language of the new generation, the first part was woven through memes, posts, and tweets, all sharing what the new generation refer to as viral. It cannot be denied that the way social media has spread over the past few years is akin to that of a virus, its reach ever expanding. From the archaic Friendster, social media has evolved to Facebook, before taking on other forms such as Twitter, Instagram, and the latest that took everyone by storm during the pandemic, TikTok. The different strains of social media keep on evolving and keep adapting to the needs of our times, and we are all fort it.

In hindsight, No One Is Talking About This is the social media novel many of us have been subconsciously waiting for but never got until now. We have become a notification-hungry generation, hungry for likes, comments and engagements. It has become a part of our lives, from the moment we wake up to the moments before we sleep, we can’t keep our hands off social media. But as the old adage goes, too much of everything is bad. Rather than reducing the distances that separate people, social media has become a device for creating chasms, arguments, and discords. The more that we escape into the relative “safety” of the portal, the more that we get disconnected from reality. An offshoot of this is the reality that we have all begun leading double lives: one in the internet and one in real life. It gets murky when we start mistaking one from the other.

The manner the story was delivered was also an allusion to our usage of social media. We peruse our social media accounts with urgency, scrolling endlessly until our thumb goes numb. This was perfectly captured by the fragmented, often disjointed, segments that comprised the narrative. Most of these segments often careened towards humor. Many of these segments poke fun – and some were truly funny – at the absurdities of contemporary realities:

“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.”

~Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This

This unusual structure complimented the story, despite its lack of a solid plot. These funny, sometimes snide remarks, however, belie the deeper messages embedded in the narrative. The satire was not lost in translation. It was incisive in its exploration of our contemporary concerns as the novel does not reduce itself into a mere examination of the impact of social media, and the internet. It was, largely, a commentary but it was also intersected with terse one-liners that explored seminal contemporary concerns such as womanhood, parenthood, climate change, fake news, and even politics. At one point, the “dictator” was mentioned, a palpable allusion to former president Trump. These remarks on politics reinforced the idea that social media is influential in political discourses. Nowadays, everything is political:

“Every day we were seeing new evidence that suggested it was the portal that had allowed the dictator to rise to power. This was humiliating. It would be like discovering that the Vietnam War was secretly caused by ham radios, or that Napoleon was operating exclusively on the advice of a parrot named Brian.”

There was a dramatic shift in tone that took place as the narrative entered the second part. After receiving urgent messages from her mother, the protagonist rushed home from her travels. Her journeys into the portal was disrupted and so was her current realities. Not only did the tone shift but the entire plotline made a 360-degree pivot. Apart form the tone, the focus and the concerns also shifted. This pivot, whilst abrupt, proved critical in the progression of the narrative. The exploration of the online world was clever and funny, However, it was slowly reaching its saturation point. It was at the point where it was starting to become tedious and repetitive when the protagonist was summoned back home to deal with real life. As the protagonist was jolted back to reality, so did the readers.

From the online world, the the landscape and complexion of the narrative drastically and dramatically changed. In the second part, we meet more of the protagonist’s family, with the story focusing on her sister’s pregnancy. We also get to observe her in an environment that is detached from the portal. The shift underscored the stark dichotomy of an Extremely Online Life and Real Life. Online, we can talk about a plethora of subjects, some serious while some superficial. However, at the end of the day, we have to deal with our own realities and our own realities are not always as pleasant as the ones we built online.

Despite the baby being born with Proteus Syndrome, the birth of the baby ushered joy, tenderness, and love. Lockwood did a commendable job of portraying the joys connected to the birth of a child, the light that she sparks. Lockwood also managed to capture the anxieties and exasperation that is inevitably connected childbirth. On the other hand, this situation underscored a seminal subject pertaining to the autonomy and control over the female body vis-à-vis childbirth. The child’s condition was diagnosed before birth. However, legislation did not give the mother the option of terminating the child nor did it allow her to induce labor.

“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?

~Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This

This unfortunate situation regaled the readers with another facet of Lockwood’s writing – characterization. Unlike the first part, the second part was more personal, a rumination on deeper emotions such as love, sorrow, joy, and grief. The unmatched joy that the baby ushered in beaconed amidst the sea of emptiness of the online world and the tragedies that abound our personal realities. Lockwood also gave a vicarious experiences, making her readers feel the emotional rollercoaster prevalent in the second part, and despite the fragmentary narrative structure that was carried over from the earlier parts.

In her debut novel, Patricia Lockwood produced a clever novel that resonated with the realities abound in the contemporary. No One Is Talking About This is a timely literary work that examines the follies of our current realities, emphasizing on the roles of social media and the online world. The satire was further complimented by its blunt but astute observations of society. Overall, it is a precautionary tale reminding us that, whilst social media and the internet are both inevitable parts of our lives, we should never forget reconnecting to real life. It shuns the readers, rousing them from the superficialities of online living:

“The people who lived in the portal were often compared to those legendary experiment rats who kept hitting a button over and over to get a pellet. But at least the rats were getting a pellet, or the hope of a pellet, or the memory of a pellet. When we hit the button, all we were getting was to be more of a rat.”

~Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This
Ratings

78%

Characters (30%) – 22%
Plot (30%) – 22%
Writing (25%) – 20%
Overall Impact (15%) – 14%

Earlier this year, I came across Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This. It has gained quite the positive feedback from fellow book readers. It was even shortlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction. However, I held back on the prospect of reading the novel, a little ambivalent about what it has in store for me. But then again, I have always been reluctant about books that easily gain hype. I later on changed my mind, especially after it was longlisted (then shortlisted) for the Booker Prize for Fiction. It was accompanied by a eureka moment: “There must be something about the book that makes it irresistible.” Opening the book, I was regaled with a distinct reading journey but was somehow familiar. The structure and the urgency of the text was reminiscent of social media. It was something we can all relate to despite its fragmented structure. It was an interesting take on the realities of the contemporary. With its lack of plot, the experience might be foreign to some. Nevertheless, it is a narrative that we have been expecting for quite some time.

Book Specs

Author: Patricia Lockwood
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publishing Date: 2021
Number of Pages: 208
Genre: Humorous Fiction, Satire

Synopsis

As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman known for her viral social media posts travels the world speaking to 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 threads – from climate change 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. “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this till 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 poof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary. 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.

About the Author

Patricia Lockwood was born on April 27, 1982 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her father, Greg Lockwood, was formerly a seaman on a nuclear submarine before becoming a Lutheran priest. By virtue of a special pastoral provision issued by the pope in 1980, Greg Lockwood applied for ordination as a married Catholic priest from the Archbishop of St. Louis. Her father’s ordination experienced growing up in a Catholic rectory, with a priest for a father. She grew up and attended parochial schools in St. Louis, Missouri and Cincinnati, Ohio. However, she never attended college.

Lockwood’s interest in literature manifested in her poetry works. Following her marriage at the age of 21, she started writing poetry and her works, from 2004 to 2011, were even published in mainstream publications and magazines such as The New YorkerPoetry, and the London Review of Books. In 2011, Lockwood joined Twitter and immediately made a huge impression in the world of social media with her comedy and poetics, including the ironic “sext” form she originated.

A year following her successful entrance into the world of social media, Lockwood published her first poetry collection titled Balloon Pop Outlaw Black. It was both a critical and commercial success, becoming one of the bestselling independent poetry titles of all times. Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, her second poetry collection, was published in 2014 and was named by he New York Times as a Notable Book. In May 2017, her memoir, Priestdaddy, was published. It was consistently listed as one of the best books of the year and was even named by the Times in 2019 as one of “The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years”. Her debut novel, No One Is Talking About This was published in 2021. It was a massive critical success, with shortlisting in both the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction and the 2021 Booker Prize. Lockwood has also written essays and literary criticisms that were published in prominent publications such as the London Review of Books.