Special thanks to Dave Wingrave for being an essential reader and patient friend, even though I am very annoying. An acknowledgement at the close of Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler.
Fake Accounts is a 2021 novel set in New York and Berlin. The protagonist is a young woman writing an autobiographical novel. It’s a knowing, self-referential, slick read packed with wry observations and witty epigrams.
Take these descriptions of the Women’s March in Washington:
– we waited under the sick mossy light favoured by the D.C. transit authority
– I felt the urge that comes at concerts to get to the front, though I had no idea what I wanted there
– We were no longer a crowd of individual people but a single unit none of us controlled.
All splendid, rich stuff.
Epigrams and repartee
The repartee and acute observation of Oyler’s first-person narrator is the stand-out of the novel. Here are a few examples:
– Would it not be humiliating to go from the great story of falling in love with my Berlin pub crawl tour guide to saying, “We met on Tinder”?
– Felix… still hadn’t sent me anything. I was annoyed but didn’t find it peculiar–he slept late and refused to see the advantages of certain relationship best practices, like ignoring your friends and surroundings in order to text your partner constantly.
– I had been spending money somewhat frivolously because I was about to do something brave and honorable by dumping my boyfriend and needed to positively reinforce my decision.
– All the restaurants in D.C. were clean and obvious; they looked like they were designed by someone who had forgotten until the very last minute that restaurants usually had tables and chairs.
– “I’m sorry,” he kept saying in the Uber, not in the rote, box-ticking way, as if he regretted what had happened and wanted a shorthand for impossible condolence, but as if he had actually done something wrong.
– FEELINGS were popular at the time – expressing them was seen as a kind of feminist statement, the reclamation of an “inappropriate” femininity previously dismissed as frivolous or hysterical
– She made all her social media accounts private, not because she was being overtly harassed by strangers but because she became unsustainably paranoid that she was being judged and disparaged in private messages, which surely she was. It’s convoluted, I know, but that’s how these things are.
Fake Accounts: more slick wit
– “He said we should start a podcast together!” she wailed of the journalist at the kitchen table, and I thought, He probably says that to all the girls.
– But it just didn’t seem like it was going to happen for me in New York, it being it, resounding, highly publicized success, or rather I didn’t care to do what was necessary to make it happen for me – work very hard, for example.
– Nontourists [in Berlin] lounged at cafes for all hours of the day, few with the intensely eyebrowed focus on their laptop screens that characterized the patrons at cramped New York equivalents.
– I disliked being told what to do – I made a mental note to add this to my profile, a sexy but meaningless declaration
– Although I knew by this time my intention was to use my [dating] profile for casual deception, a hobby, I wanted to allow for the possibility of falling in love with a man so immediately wonderful that he would break down my mendacious defences romantic-comedy style.
– I wanted to express an alluringly evasive personality… a cliché of characterization, apparently saying much but actually saying nothing at all, but actually saying something true via the inaccessibly flirty style
– An important thing to remember when lying, to remain cool and not nervous, is that other people care much more about themselves than they care about you. It never occurred to me that some of these men might be faking it with me.
Not much happens – or does it?
Some elements of the book work less well for me. Nothing much happens. Oyler seems conscious of this. She divides up the narrative into “Beginning”, “Back Story”, “Middle (Something Happens)”, “Middle (Nothing Happens)” and so on. A revelation about her boyfriend early on seems to promise a plot twist. At the close of the story another plot twist occurs. But most of the narrative consists of the narrator’s musings about herself, other people, and their interactions via social media.
Or have I missed a story arc? Comments welcome.
Fake Accounts: bitchy and cruel
Most of the unnamed narrator’s musings are bitchy and cruel, salvaged in places by wit. Some readers may adore her. I found her maddening. Oyler seems aware of this, the narrator acknowledging that she isn’t a nice person:
– (My rent being so low that I am not going to tell you what it was, teetering as I am already on the border between likeable and loathsome.)
– [Of her flatmate] I repaid her generosity of supply and spirit by using her Q-tips and never cleaning the kitchen.
Indeed, Oyler describes herself as irritating in her acknowledgements (see intro to this piece). But some of the narrator’s actions, for example a childhood episode involving her friend Kayla and a notebook, are so loathsome as to put you off wanting to spend time with the narrator – even if she is creepily self-aware:
– Kayla and her mother would forever see me a certain way – as a careless little bitch who didn’t know what she was talking about. But a careless little bitch who didn’t know what she was talking about is not as bad as what I actually was: someone who would rather other people think of her as a careless little bitch who didn’t know what she was talking about than not think of her at all.
Fake Accounts: how women think?
The narrator’s rambling imaginings of what might happen in the future reminded me of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (see my review at the link). Take this description of her regret at an action not taken:
– I wished I’d confronted him. I could have asked him why, and even if he’d refused to speak and just shaken his head, I could have looked at his body language and facial expressions and tried to detect some truth in them. I could have grabbed his face cinematically and made him look at me, and even if he pulled away it would have given me something more to analyse than what I had.
Or when she prepares to meet someone in a bar:
– I worried about what we would say to each other, whether he would begin with some comment about my looks to which I wouldn’t know how to respond, whether he would tell me sensitive things about his childhood that would make me feel sorry for him and hesitate to leave without an apology.
Or with a date:
– I imagined our relationship: He would be initially very sweet and progressively less so. He would always leave our mornings-after at a reasonable hour. Eventually I would have to tell him I’d lied about my biography, and he would be upset, but it would be because he was allowed to be, not because it truly hurt him. We would keep small things from each other because neither of us really understood ourselves… [etc etc]
Oyler on social media
The book bristles with commentary on social media, eg:
– When the possibility of approval and validation I found online was eliminated I did not miss it as much as I would have assumed; I liked the approval and validation, a lot, but deep down I had always known these affirmations were unstable, not indicative of anything but passing recognition or, in the case of the reliable cadre of anonymous men who responded to everything I posted, sexual attraction. Even the come-ons were illusory, inspired by my virtual persona and not by myself, which rendered the paranoid analysis initiated by each private message even more ridiculous, a whole personal analysing a composite’s response to a composite.
I particularly liked the tongue-in-cheek self-justification of the narrator’s trolling behaviour in this passage:
– [On social media] I could be anyone I wanted (or did not want, as the case may be), and my deception would not be selfish, cruelly manipulative of innocents looking for love, but a rebellion against an entire mode of thinking
Fake Accounts teems with discussion of real-life social media apps. It took me a while to realise that OkCupid was a real app, that the Hysterical Literature art project to which she refers was real, or that Relationship Anarchy, described at length, is an actual, albeit rather desperate-sounding, thing. I learned a lot.
Fake Accounts: read it
Overall, I found Fake Accounts readable, entertaining and slick. Definitely worth a read.
For: confident, eloquent writing captures the zeitgeist of young adult angst in 2021.
Against: I’d have welcomed a stronger story.
If you’d like a look at a scary book describing how men – maybe – think, check out my review of Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence.