One of the best sentences in Fake Accounts stands on its own, separated from the narrator’s musings on dating apps and the 2010s: “At some point you have to admit that doing things ironically can have very straightforward consequences.”
The observation is apt, if abrupt; the narrator’s self-absorbed thoughts pause only for a moment. Across politics and media, social interactions and online personas, irony seems to be the dominant trait of the 21st century, or at the very least the past five years or so. Driven by the illusion of reality inherent to digital space, we are constantly spiraling into corners of the internet, losing touch with the world itself. Lauren Oyler attempts to unpack that illusion in her new novel, which received media hype and discussion among the millennial literary circle. But the novel reads like something written specifically for the glamorous reception it amassed. The pithy one-liners and hollow self-criticism implicate it in the very matrix of pseudo-self-awareness that it claims to address.
Oyler’s novel has, at the very least, an interesting concept of a plot: right after a young woman working at a feminist media company discovers that her boyfriend runs a conspiracy theory account on Instagram, he dies and she moves to Berlin, where she tries on various personalities while becoming further detached from reality and her own self-awareness. However, despite Oyler’s declaration that her book is not autofiction, the narrator, with her irritating self-absorption and tendency toward meaningless irony, is pretty much identical to every white woman working for the internet. Oyler covers all the bases of hyper-relatability for her audience: internet addiction, a snobbish aversion to genuinity, performative self-deprecation. The characters feel like archetypes that might be the victims of starter pack memes, which is to say, annoyingly predictable.
Fake Accounts is a perfectly adequate novel to add to the list of much-overhyped millennial reading, i.e. Normal People, Bad Feminist, How to Do Nothing, et cetera. And if Oyler wasn’t such a harsh critic of that specific literary circle, this novel would just be another pretty well-written if unmoving book. But she has written a dozen takedowns of media darlings like Sally Rooney and Jia Tolentino that are centered on her distaste for moralizing, self-absorbed, digital-first writing; Roxane Gay made her wonder “whether literature is dead and we have killed it.”
This distaste is more than valid, and her reviews are often a great reality check of the millennial genre, reminding everyone who posted a picture of Trick Mirror on their Instagram story to, please, stop being so annoying. Given her disillusion with modern writing, though, Fake Accounts is all the more frustrating. If you’re going to lament the death of literature, your own novel better be good.
It’s not that Fake Accounts is poorly written, nor does it present any bad opinions about internet culture. The problem is that there is nothing interesting or groundbreaking about writing an entire novel in the style of cynical Twitter takes. The narrator’s long musings on internet culture do not present new ways of thinking, and her observations on millennial political discourse come off as trite. When Oyler mocks the Women’s March, media organizations, downtown Manhattan, and men on the internet, it’s fun to read because it’s fun to engage in self-deprecation, but that’s not a reason to write a novel. Writing an entire novel about Brooklyn white women’s self-awareness, the readership of which is majority Brooklyn white women, is perhaps not the best way to level an effective critique. What’s more self-absorbed than masturbatory self-awareness?
Even if one argues that the predictability of the plot and the self-absorption of the narrator are supposed to be self-critical, that the entire book is supposed to be a reflection of the meaninglessness of modern life, it begs the question: so what’s the point? Haven’t we already endured enough empty “conversations” about what it means to be alive and online today? Let’s open up the possibility of simply moving on to another topic. After all, once the media hype simmers and every Brooklyn white woman has read the book and subjected her Twitter followers and friends to an adequate number of hot takes that prove her intellect, what is the point of this book?
At first glance, Fake Accounts seems like an anti-internet novel, and in many ways Oyler does offer an important, albeit not new, critique of the disconnect from reality that comes with spending too much time online. But fiction shouldn’t be an identical representation of reality; leave that for the already-oversaturated essay collection market. The goal of fiction should not necessarily be an escape from overarching reality, but it should allow an escape from daily life. I don’t want to pick up a novel and understand the references to names and websites and locations and opinions that I just read about on Twitter. I want to read something and think this was a great book, not because it captured the millennial condition but because it was original and full.
Oyler said that she wanted to make the book really good so that people wouldn’t think, “Why am I reading this?” Honestly, she succeeded in that task. By the end of the book, I knew exactly why I read it: because it seemed like required reading. Fake Accounts is a result of the assembly line of millennial thought, a natural product of the endless lack of originality in a world oversaturated by content. But alas, life is digital, and the parasite of internet discourse finding a new host in fiction feels inevitable. If you’ve ever looked around and thought the world was all style and no substance, Fake Accounts is here to show you that you’re right. It’s the kind of book that feels algorithmically generated for its audience. Again, maybe that’s the point. But an obsession with content creation and algorithmic language has already eroded at journalism and creative writing. Please, no more internet. Let fiction be the last sacred space.
By Katherine Williams
Illustration by Eutalia de La Paz