15 August 2020

Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte


This was the fifth book I read while stuck in the Covid pandemic and it is easily my least favourite. I put this book on a Christmas list a few years ago because Jonathan Franzen recommended it in an interview he gave. I can see why he enjoyed as it takes a pretty big, bitter bite out of millennials, but it wasn't my taste.

Private Citizens is Tony Tulathimutte's debut novel. He got a lot of recognition for some short stories he wrote previously, and he was also a student at the Iowa Writers' Workshop - a group I can't take seriously ever since watching that episode of Lena Dunham's Girls.

The book is just under 400 pages, and even though I didn't enjoy reading it, it was still very easy to get through. The book is centered on four recent university grads who are all living in San Francisco, and the chapters are divided between their four perspectives. All four characters used to be really close and are now dealing with drifting apart as their personal and professional lives take different paths.

Tony Tulathimutte

I will quickly discuss each character in order of who I found most tolerable to least tolerable:

Henrik

Henrik initially works in a lab for one of his professors, but after the grant money dries up he ends up unemployed and moving into a commune in San Francisco. He spent his younger years living out of a car with his father and he desperately wanted to get away from the road life. He suffers from bipolar disorder. Henrik is the only character I could even mildly tolerate.

He wrote arguments for and against life; he began to think the slowest and most painful form of suicide was living, running the whole decathlon of suffering, no breathers or bottled water."

Cory

Cory is a social justice warrior in the worst sense. She is constantly weighing every side to every issue and it is incredibly frustrating. I feel like Tulathimutte takes a lot of pleasure in writing Cory's character because she is kind of the stereotypical Twitter user trolls seek out.

I also read this study on memory loss in divorcees and widows. How it's caused by their partners' physical absence, since they use one another as memory cues, like when they finish each other's sentences. So losing your partner is like losing part of your mind. It's probably pop science bullshit."

Will

Will is a creepy internet lurker who loves pornography and sometimes CGIs his girlfriend's face to the videos. He knows how to hide everything in encrypted files on his computer and is also the only friend to be making a lot of money. Silicone Valley isn't mentioned as much as you'd expect, but certainly enough. His storyline becomes particularly heinous.

So it's hard for you to flirt, but easy to rip your guts open?"

Linda 

This character is repulsive and I despised any parts of the book that involved her. There are a few "backstories" dropped but you actually never find out whether they are real or lies she tells ex boyfriends. I recently watched Jane Campion's 1989 movie Sweetie and I can't separate those characters. Linda is apparently attractive.

Her hipness finally radicalized into terrorism."

As with any book I review, by the end I have almost talked myself back into enjoying it. I want to stress that I wouldn't tell anyone not to read this book, it just wasn't for me. I have read plenty of books with terrible protagonists, but this one felt different. I just don't love satire and never have.

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