Review of No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
The first section of Lockwood's story about an internet darling is absurd, frivolous, vulgar, irritating, and frequently disturbing; the second section shocked me with its meaningful and poignant examinations of life and loss.
No One Is Talking about This is fiction from Patricia Lockwood, the author of the memoir Priestdaddy. Lockwood is a poet, and Priestdaddy illustrated her truly quirky and off-kilter poet's view of the world.
Part I of No One Is Talking About This is outrageous, frequently rude and exceedingly upsetting, clever, and annoying, and it's followed by a Part II that is poignant and often heartbreakingly lovely.
In Part I of No One Is Talking about This, a social media darling undergoes an existential crisis and even wonders if her thoughts are being controlled externally. She is compelled to continue trying to engage and attempt to amaze those reading her absurd posts, and she frequently wonders what is real and what is constructed reality--and she begins to wonder what it's all for, anyway. This section of the book is presented in very short snippets that are often comments, jokes, questions, or pithy remarks; reading these somewhat mirrors the feeling of scrolling through the internet.
In the main character's take on "the portal," as she refers to the internet, she straddles the line between relatable and startling. This first section of the book is largely satire, with weird, edgy moments that frequently venture over the line of social acceptability into wildly disgusting. Lockwood uses profanity and sex to shine a light on aspects of society, and this is purposely jarring. Yet kernels of these dark, hyperbolic glimpses into humanity and the swirl of social media--as well as the powerful shifts each makes in the other--often feel true and deeply disturbing. About the portal, the protagonist says:
“It had also been the place where you sounded like yourself. Gradually it had become the place where we sounded like each other, through some erosion of wind or water on a self not nearly as firm as stone."
But a dramatic, shocking change occurs in the main protagonist's situation in the second part of the book. The situation that arises in her life is so deep and important, the tone of the book shifts to reflect it. Part II of No One Is Talking About This is meaningful and poignant and heartbreaking, and it brought me to tears.
Lockwood references the character's frivolity and revolting reliance upon others' attention and esteem from Part I, but the book has grown beyond such insanity and focuses on poetically exploring powerful existential matters. What does living fully mean? What is life? What is health? What are the essential experiences a human should experience before death? What is love? How can you fully love when life is fleeting and when the inevitable, looming loss will undoubtedly break your heart?
There are too many beautiful, heart-wrenching passages from this section of the book to quote, and Lockwood's poetic view of the world is gloriously showcased in this section.
The Acknowledgments allude to a real-life situation in Lockwood's family that was the basis for this second part of the book, which added a layer of meaning and heartbreak for me as a reader.
Patricia Lockwood is a singular voice, and this book is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. But No One Is Talking About This is truly unlike anything I have ever read.
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If I could give a split rating, I'd give 3.5 stars for the cleverness of Part I--despite how disturbing I found it--and 5 stars for the heart-wrenching, pure beauty of much of Part II.