Can we talk about Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This (Riverhead Books 2021), because we all need to be. Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, this is Lockwood’s first work of fiction and one of the best books I’ve read this year.
The narrator is a social media influencer who travels the world and constantly posts on the “Portal.” The first half of the novel rolls along as if you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed or TikTok videos. Snippets of her life are interwoven with more prominent memes and viral clips that most readers of a certain age would recognize. (“It me.”) BLM, white “wokeness,” the Trump presidency (though he is simply referred to as “the dictator”) and oppressive “pro-life” legislation work to date the novel as do the viral images/clips/stories that cycle through the Portal.
The first half is told in the fragmented, selective style of social media postings. It’s funny. It’s irreverent. And it’s certainly unique. We all scroll. We know our memes. We’ve all looked through photos of Jason Momoa. We know our viral videos. We know about the “importance” of “unique impressions.” And we have read countless “top tweets” or Buzzfeed articles about parents who think LOL means “lots of love” and that the eggplant emoji is for when you’re making eggplant for dinner. We get it. Lockwood is right there with us, and we’re just scrolling right along with her. And it’s a hoot.
Then comes the second half of the novel, the half where life catches up with you and you have no choice but to put your phone down. The narrator’s younger sister is pregnant and there’s something wrong with the baby. The child is diagnosed in utero as having Proteus Syndrome, and everything slows down. The Portal and the life curated on it for the world to see doesn’t matter anymore – all that matters is that baby.
“A minute means something to her, more than it means to us. We don’t know how long she has – I can give them to her, I can give her my minutes… What was I doing with them before?”
The second half of the novel is what happens offline. The tears. The prayers. The heartbreak. The anger. The grief. The loving. And yes, the living. It is raw and real – Lockwood excelling with her no tricks involved storytelling in such a way that my heart is still sitting in my throat. When I saw the Acknowledgements at the end and read about Lockwood’s niece, Lena, I understand why her words had such an impact – it’s fiction, but Lockwood exposed her heart, all the broken shards and shattered light of the love she felt for Lena.
And I am thankful she did.
Put your phone down and do some living.
Then read this book.