We’ve all read the story of the self-loathing millennial writer in New York who’s in a deep depression about the state of the world but ultimately too entranced by her own existence to do anything about it other than go to a protest, post a moving diatribe about ‘the moment’ and then overindulge on avocados and flat whites and take selfies about it lololololol hashtag sadface we all die. This is somehow a myth that We, The Millenials ourselves perpetuate, regardless of the fact that I’m pretty sure, despite any evidence at all, that it originated as a right wing stereotype that has been used somewhat effectively to ridicule an entire once-impassioned generation into complacency and inaction. It reminds me of that line in Mean Girls: “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores.” Except instead of calling each other sluts and whores we’re calling OURSELVES shallow and self-obsessed, and making jokes about it online.
So that’s how I feel about millennial fiction now. I don’t hate it and I still read a lot of it. (I read too much of it. There are too many layers of meta for me to describe the issue with that.) But with all of that in mind, Lauren Oyler’s debut, Fake Accounts, is, somehow, different. And not just in the way that my friends tell me that this guy with the picture of a fish on a dating app is different. It’s really different. It is, I am terrified to say, one of my favourite books I’ve read in years? No question mark needed, it’s definitive. I just put the question mark there because that’s a very millennial method of hedging. I have become incredibly self-referential in all of my natural behaviours since reading this book, because it so got under my skin. No, I do not need to hedge. My very millennial lifestyle of balancing a social media day job with a night job writing screenplays means that I was working 16 hours days when I read this. And yet I still found the time to ingest this, almost whole. I am so rarely earnest when reviewing books, but I really, really liked this.
I don’t want to give too much away, although I will say that Oyler literally warns you when something is about to happen that you need to be aware of, as though there’s a risk that you wouldn’t be paying attention; instead swiping through the book as though it is another day on your shitty social media feed. There is no risk of you missing the action here. These chapter headings are just one of the sprinkling of meta literary flourishes that again, elevate this from a typical millennial diatribe.
But this is a review so I feel obligated to say something about the book beyond ‘It is largely better than lots of the books that it is similar to,’ although that is true.
Fake Accounts is about one woman’s self-discovery set against the backdrop of Trump’s election and inauguration, and the mass outpouring of collective grief and protest this caused. We follow our protagonist from New York to Berlin after a shock discovery on her boyfriend’s phone—that he runs a secret Instagram account that shares right-wing, conspiratorial views. And that’s all I’m telling you about the plot because I really do want you to read it to find out the rest. It’s not that the plot takes you to completely surprising places; I’m sure most readers will be aware of the ending long before the book’s protagonist is. It’s that the journey to get there and the specific moments of that are more surprising than the plot itself.
At the same time as I read this book, I was also delving into the Cambridge Analytical data hacking scandal with the memoirs of Christopher Wylie and Brittany Kaiser. It felt synchronistic, because I, as a millennial, am always looking for signs from the universe, which I believe is somehow centred around me. It’s pretty much common knowledge now that far right conspiracy theories, disseminated through social media, are responsible for some terrible political happenings of the past half-decade.
But Fake Accounts shows us a different side to this, and reminds us that the perpetuators of the beliefs we despise, that have done their bit in creating the unjust society we all hope to change, are closer to home than we may think. It reminds us that nothing is as it seems—even in the most innocuous of places and scenarios. It reminds us how easy it is for us to fall for and fall into the mistruths and mysteries that have become the fabric of our society, woven with the digital fabrics we accept and pull around us for comfort.
There are a lot of ways you can look about the batshit crazy world of social media and the buzzword obsession with ‘authenticity’ and how these intersect with the personal and the political. And while Fake Accounts focuses on the personal more than the political, the context forces you to draw the comparisons. And because of this, it made me feel sad and angry that we as a society are spending our lives being gaslit on a level that none of us can truly be aware of; and that ‘post truth’ and ‘fake news’ and other such phrases are just ways of us trying to take control of the fact that fact and fiction just don’t mean what they used to. And that’s very frightening.
I read this book in the early days of the pandemic, when a Joe Biden victory was but a twinkle in the eye of the liberal electorate. This is to say, I read it when we were all still living through the present trauma of the Trump administration. I wonder what it’ll be like to read when we’re still living with the repercussions, and the knowledge that the views that led to his election won’t simply go away overnight when there’s a new figurehead on Twitter who’s more careful with his words, but when he isn’t looming large every day, reminding us and digging us into a deeper hole. I hope that now, published just weeks after Joe Biden’s inauguration, there will be a different mood in the pages.
By Lauren Oyler
272 pages. 2021.