No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
Patricia Lockwood is known for – among other things – saying very clever things on the internet. The unnamed protagonist of her highly anticipated first novel seems to have the same gig: she reckons she’ll be best remembered for asking the denizens of ‘the portal’ if ‘a dog can be a twin’ and for photoshopping bags of peas into photographs of historical atrocities. But her existence online doesn’t prepare her for the crisis that hits her family, and after receiving urgent texts from her mother – ‘something has gone wrong … how soon can you get here?’ – she’s shaken out of her online life and into a much more unsettling reality.
No One Is Talking About This is written in fragments, operating as a sort of prose poem, and these moments of poetry, humour and anecdote build towards something greater than the sum of its parts. In many ways it reminded me of Jenny Offill’s Weather: an exploration of the fragmented pieces that make up modern American life. Like many contemporary American novels, Lockwood’s debut can’t resist engaging with ‘the dictator’. Much like the protagonist, ‘the dictator’ remains unnamed but it isn’t difficult to work out which recent American leader stares directly at eclipses.
This is a novel fully steeped in the alarming present (although there are no mentions of COVID) in a way that reminded me of Ali Smith’s Seasons Quartet. It’s not a book that could have been written ten or even five years ago. I’m always going to be a Lockwood fangirl, but I admit her work isn’t for everyone. It may not suit those with more traditional tastes, but for those willing to brave it, No One Is Talking About This is richly rewarding – equal parts pathos and hilarity. More importantly, it’s an indication of where the novel is heading in the 21st century.