The Short Version: Anna, now late into her 30s, is adrift. Let go from her mid-level job, she’s addicted to the internet and pathologically incapable of coming up with a plan for her life. But when she tries to break into the film world – her latest ‘plan’ – she ends up meeting a magnetic avant-garde filmmaker named Taj and setting off a chain of events that’ll eventually lead her to the light.
The Review: I’m not sure there’s anything more tiresome than Gen-Xers / millennials attempting to explain our current malaise through purposefully uncomfortable storytelling – except, perhaps, Boomers shitting on millennials in regular op-eds or cover stories.
I mean, seriously. Yes, our phones and devices have become overwhelmingly attached to our persons and the internet has, indeed, draped itself like kudzu over our brains. But that line, used in the blurb on the back of the book and on the first page of the story itself, is probably the best shot Simone has – and she goes nowhere with it. At least, she goes nowhere that I particularly want to go, although the ending… — well, we’ll get to that.
Anna, our main character, is apparently 37. Not 27. 37. She was born in the 1970s, folks. She’s someone who you don’t expect to be capsized by the internet. Is that a fair presumption to go into the book with? Maybe not. After all, I do know plenty of 30-somethings who are obsessed with the internet. But for the most part, even those ones have their shit together in some way, shape, or form. Your twenties are the time for you to drift around, have shit jobs, get fat, get skinny, travel, etc. Pushing 40 feels like a terribly uncomfortable position to be having a quarter-life crisis, mainly because (generously) you’re not far from your mid-life one. And so I had, from the very start, absolutely no sympathy for Anna.
This is not to say that a lost thirtysomething couldn’t hold my sympathies – I’ve read and enjoyed far too many white-male-fuck-up novels to even try to make that argument, but those WMFU novels (or the WFFU novels, equal-opportunity on gender, here) make their main characters interesting. I don’t to say redemptive but they have redeeming qualities. Whereas Anna is just… there’s nothing redemptive about her. And I found that absolutely infuriating.
The story careens along, never really picking up much traction – for all of the overpowering-power-of-the-internet stuff here, the author does a surprising lack of digging into the real issues of internet addiction. Yes, Anna repeatedly says she’s going to do something and then falls down the rabbit hole and surfaces several hours later… but by the time she’s meant to start withdrawal and ‘rehab’, it seems rather like it was all just psychosomatic in the first place. Which means that the listless “wtf” of the first 2/3rds of the novel were, in fact, just a waste of our time.
But then something strange happens. It’s not a new twist and one that, had I actually been invested in the novel, I probably would’ve seen coming – but when the story suddenly went all The Shape of Things (for those unfamiliar, please don’t watch the movie – but instead go see a stage production or read the script), I found myself more intrigued than I’d been the entire time up to that point. Look, I’m a member at MoMA and I love how weird shit can be and still be called not just “art” but “Art” – and so I enjoyed the wacky attempts at making films ever more avant of the garde, even despite the fact that the actual making of art films in the present felt a bit off the mark (the real avant garde filmmakers at this point are, let’s be honest, shooting Vines on a iPhone or something ridiculous I haven’t even heard of yet). But even more importantly, I thought that the wake-up call the film presents to Anna is the one true, resonant moment of the whole narrative. She sees herself for who she is and what she has become in a way that nobody else manages to produce for her – because she sees herself doing all of the ridiculous things that she did in her flailing about through life. This sort of wake-up call is an immense moment, narratively – but the book’s lack of heft leading up to that moment makes it feel instead like a pale imitation of far more powerful versions of the same story.
Rating: 2 out of 5. It gets bumped up from the dregs of a 1 for the power of the film at the end and for the way it does make you reconsider pieces of the story that has come before – but so much of this story inspires a reader to say little more than “who cares?” It’s entertaining to be flailing through life in your twenties – it’s pathetic to do so in your thirties, in the way that Anna does here. Put another way, her age seems arbitrary in a way that it simply cannot be. If she was 27, maybe this would all make more sense. But she’s 37 – how can you have me care that she’s squandered her life?