A Debut Novel Examines the Alluring Trap of Our Online Personas

A Debut Novel Examines the Alluring Trap of Our Online Personas

A Debut Novel Examines the Alluring Trap of Our Online Personas

A Debut Novel Examines the Alluring Trap of Our Online Personas

Like Emma, Oyler’s narrator teeters “on the border between likable and loathsome” and possesses enormous reserves of intellectual and libidinal energy in search of an outlet. Emma is “handsome, clever and rich”; Oyler’s narrator is also those things, albeit in somewhat lesser form. And perhaps most significantly, she too is fumbling, a little blindly, around the problem of her privilege, which she is aware of but not yet existentially troubled by.

In the wake of the election, she observes that for her “cohort,” the incoming “administration … would not affect them particularly sweepingly” and that in fact, “being a white woman living in Brooklyn began to feel, very briefly, less repugnant; the white women living in Brooklyn, in the end, were ultimately just annoying, point-missing and distracting, not the biggest problem.”

A “somewhat retrograde cynic, a toxic presence,” the narrator armors herself in wit, continually hedging her position and thus her engagement with the political tumult around her. She hesitates to go to the Women’s March “not because I was ideologically opposed to the idea necessarily but because it seemed there would be a lot of pink, which in a feminist context signaled to me a lack of rigor.” Later, she refers to her story as a typical “searching bourgeois-white-person narrative.”

But this cynicism blunts her ability to navigate the world, and her own emotions, with catastrophic results. Her friends tell her she’s “overcompensating for my despair with snark; I didn’t have to be so clever all the time.” What was the point of making jokes, she wonders, “frustrated and teary.” The narrator repeatedly gestures at the limitations of her irony, without necessarily being able to see beyond it.

That sense of entrapment — of not knowing how to relate to the world — is central to the novel. Oyler is such a funny writer that it can be easy to overlook the fact that the underlying tone of her book is extreme disquiet. Irony provides no protection from unease, but is itself a source of it. It becomes clear why the novel takes place in the days after the 2016 election. This period brought the rapid ascent of the alt-right, the proliferation of its language and symbols. Notably, that language was one of plausible deniability, hate expressed under the cover of irony.

At first glance, that particular form of toxic irony seems miles away from the lacerating humor and thrusting intellect of our narrator. But cynicism leaves her vulnerable to misapprehending the world and the people in it — including her very online, conspiracy theorist boyfriend. The reader grasps much earlier than she does not only the final layer of Felix’s betrayals, but also the grim possibility that she fell in love with Felix not despite his deceptions but because of them — that there is an uncomfortable alliance between her “lazy nihilism” and his reactionary online persona.

How do we relate to irony and cynicism in this new age of the alt-right? Stylish, despairing and very funny, “Fake Accounts” doesn’t necessarily provide an answer to this question. But it adroitly maps the dwindling gap between the individual and the world. However much time the narrator spends alone, in her head and online, she is formed by what is happening outside. Eventually, the realization hits: The entire time, the call has been coming from inside the house.


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