Darcie Wilder’s 2017 book, literally show me a healthy person is very much a twitter novel, consisting mostly of aphoristic sentences. It bears obvious comparisons to Patricia Lockwood’s No-one is Talking About This (2021), particularly since both juxtapose the ephemerality of twitter with the realities of grief.
Wilder’s book is both shorter and scrappier. It buries the story about trauma under glib, often funny phrases (one that particularly stood out: “saying ‘awesome’ on work calls is just another way to stay punk” – I feel slighted). The lines about nihilistic partying come to stand in reaction to the narrator’s descriptions of childhood trauma.
I think this aphoristic style works well, and captures one of the strangest feelings of the social media age – what the Content Mines podcast referred to as ‘structural dissonance’ – the way in which social media platforms blur together trivia, marketing messages and horrific news. One example that the Content Mines used was when the SweetMiniDollsHouse Instagram account interrupted its posts about dolls house miniatures to document the account owner’s pictures of the Ukraine invasion.
This is an extreme example, but social media is full of such examples. Pictures of people partying rub alongside political messages. When Wilder’s narrator fails to focus on their trauma (and any chance/attempt of healing) it reflects the way that we bury things in favour of surface entertainments.
The idea that trivia is a distraction from the world’s issues is a common criticism of capitalism but social media provides a constant distraction from our own lives (there are values to these tools, but they are easily swamped by commercial needs). The world we live in very much reflects the one described in Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, which predicted the current media landscape from 1967.
David Shields’ 2010 book Reality Hunger predicted more texts like Wilder’s novel, with its aphorisms and blurring of fact with fiction (many of the narrator’s lines were originally posted on Wilder’s twitter account). literally show me a healthy person is a good example of the sort of novel Shields was talking about.
Looking for something in my blog this week, I found a link from 2010 to Russell Davies’ review of a Douglas Couplan novel. Davies wrote:
I’m sure I’ll read more of Mr Coupland’s books but I’d almost rather read his lists or his notes. It seems like he’s the perfect novelist to write the something-that’s-not-a-novel that must be just around the corner.
I’ve been waiting for this “something-that’s-not-a-novel” promised by Reality Hunger for a long time now. Wilder’s novel is a good example of the form.If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list