Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts is one of the most buzzed-about debuts of this year. The premise is intriguing: On the eve of Trump’s inauguration, a blogger finds out that her boyfriend is secretly a conspiracy theorist. She decides to dump him rather than confront him right away. The secret knowledge that Felix, her boyfriend, was lying to her is “a source of cruel pleasure” to our protagonist. She likes keeping this bit of information “locked up in a little cage” in her mind “feeding it sad meals on a tray in the mornings and evenings.” However before she can dump him, fate intervenes.
The novel starts strong and hits the right notes when it comes to skewering the social media generation’s obsession with maintaining carefully crafted real and virtual identities. Oyler tackles the banes of our digital age and how that can often lead to a splintered sense of self. The narrative is written entirely from the point of view of our protagonist which is what eventually hinders it from achieving its budding potential. For a narrative like this one, the central character has to be three dimensional or individualistic enough to sustain the interest of the reader. Here, however, our protagonist’s world view is narrow and inward looking. A majority of the narrative consists of stream-of-consciousness paragraphs that feel like scrolling through the tweets of a self-proclaimed journalist.
A recurring theme of the book is how fickle the concept of identity is in the digital world where they can be easily doctored or obliterated. They can be assumed and discarded at whim. Felix likes to tell strangers “little, inconsequential lies and build slightly alternate realities out of them…” When our protagonist first meets him in Berlin, he would swap personal histories with his colleagues to “manufacture some variety out of their Groundhog Day nights.” Gone are the ancient days when the idea of self would be painstakingly theorized and debated amongst great minds like Descartes and Aristotle. Millennials swaps their “self” out of sheer boredom. In that regard, the book does offer some food for thought.
There are glimpses of sharp critiques into the paradoxes of “woke culture”. Our protagonist ruminates on how people say our generation values authenticity but that is because we have been bombarded by fakery since the advent of the internet in our lives. At another point in the story, the protagonist deliberates over the contradictory guardedness that “wokeness” demands that we inculcate while simultaneously advocating the right to freedom of speech. Whenever the topic of feminism would pop up during a discussion, Felix would defer to her or another woman in the group to avoid “accusations of antagonism, envy or mediocrity.” She then ponders how a man discussing feminism now had little option other than becoming “a toothless sycophant” and even then, they have to be open to the possibility of being mocked or regarded with skepticism.
Discourse on hyperindividualism is once again dissected. Felix is against the idea of confining yourself to one label since “any declarative statement about yourself would inevitably result in having to publicly revise whatever distinction you’d made, admitting that you had not known yourself as well as you thought you did.” Similarly, Oyler highlights at length how we all exist in echo chambers on social media, declaring or reacting to trivial stuff about ourselves like, “I am in a bad mood,” to either elicit commiseration or feel like taking part in “a banal but important ecosystem” by partaking in it.
After Felix is wrenched out of our protagonist’s life, she moves to Berlin for a fresh start which is when the narrative becomes an account of the misadventures of her dating life. According to her, social media and dating websites entail approximating a character so that is exactly what she does. She signs up for dating apps, curating different personas for each date. For some obscure reason, she then decides to go on a series of dates where she assumes a different personality for each of the twelve zodiac signs. These are narrated in excruciating details and constitute the most fatuous part of the story.
Fake Accounts starts off strong but then loses steam about a 100 pages, in which unfortunately is only one third of the book. This book could have benefited from better editing consisting of less internal monologue and a more free-wheeling storyline. At one point our protagonist who works as a blogger for a company finds her journalistic groove by sticking to “a rote, pseudo-intellectual dismissiveness that could be applied to any topic so long as the worst political implications…were spelled out by the end of an article.” The same could be said about the prose of this book. The tone is ironic and dismissive but never really commits to either of those things. As a result, the book ends up reading like a clumsily stitched together collage of solipsistic musings.
While Fake Accounts teases an intriguing premise about conspiracy theorists and our various self-identities, it ends up reading like an amalgamation of tweets and “hot takes.”
By Lauren Oyler
Published February 2, 2021
A Karachi-based critic, bylines in Book Riot, Vol1Brooklyn, Brooklyn Mag, The Spectator, Irish Times and elsewhere. Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org