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Honor Levy’s ‘My First Book’ Short Story Review: NPR

Cover of My First Book
Cover of My First Book

What are kids thinking these days? This seems to be the question behind the publication of My first bookHonor Levy’s first animated story collection.

The 26-year-old writer was the subject of a viral profile in The cupearlier this month, in which she described the praise she received for her story “Good Boys” on The New Yorker website as “undeserved” and demurred when asked if she was the voice of her generation. Social media discourse and inevitable backlash aside, Levy’s first book is a fun, if uneven, take on growing up white, privileged, and Gen Z, the first generation to be entirely born after the existence of the Internet.

Readers won’t find meticulously plotted story arcs, fleshed-out characters, emotional epiphanies, or any other hallmarks of conventional literary fiction. Most of Levy’s stories are less than 12 pages and resemble very long flash fiction, written in a voice dense with the chaotic patois of the Internet. In his strongest stories, Levy channels the blitzkrieg of contradictory micro-observations we absorb from social media, video games, and disasters to create the absurd, incomprehensible cacophony that anyone born after 1997 had to endure growing up. These stories seem to ask the question: How can a well-adjusted adult be expected to rise above all the noise?

In “Internet Girl,” the main character is 11 and very online, and Levy’s depiction of her narrator’s interiority is both compellingly satirical and frighteningly plausible. She writes:

“It’s 2008, my dad gets laid off and everything happens all at once. Suddenly there’s two girls and a mug and planes are hitting towers and a webcam is looking at me and I’m smiling at it and a man and a boy. and a love interest and a stranger on the other end of the phone. Suddenly there are a million videos to watch and a million more to do. it starts and ends suddenly, all the time I’m twenty-one I’m on the Internet.

Another strong piece is “Love Story,” the collection’s opener, which is about a boy and a girl having an online relationship that seems to consist entirely of texting and sending each other pictures of their body. Levy poignantly captures the girl’s vulnerability. “A lost little girl can’t even find herself,” Levy writes. “Photos of her naked body are everywhere, in floating clouds and under the sea, passing through cables in the dark. It’s so dark.”

Levy cleverly skewers late capitalism in “Halloween Forever,” about a young woman trying to survive a surreal, drug-filled Halloween night in Brooklyn. She meets a “Stanford boy dressed as a cowboy” who, when sufficiently coked, muses on the romance of the Wild West and how “The West was freedom… just like the Internet was originally ! » The narrator is skeptical:

“Freedom is all about dreams and nightmares and our free market doesn’t make us free people, but the cowboy doesn’t care. Silicon Valley must have buried itself deep in his brain under that hat. He’s probably afraid of blood, or social media, or something stupid.

As the collection progresses, the unique blend of the satirical and the poignant gives way to a more essayistic approach to storytelling. In “Cancel Me,” which is about cancel culture, the characters – a young woman and two “Ivy League boys with sharp teeth and Accutane skin”, who have all been canceled over obscure reasons – gradually merge into a series. of observations about enlightenment that aren’t much different or more insightful than what one might find on X or Reddit.

“Z Was For Zoomer”, which is over 50 pages long, appears to be a continuation of “Cancel Me”, except for the two male “Edgelords” – someone on an Internet forum who deliberately posts messages on topics controversial or taboo to appear edgy – are called Gideon and Ivan instead of Jack and Roger. Much like in “Cancel Me,” the narrator’s relationship with men is never defined and does not progress. The character-driven narrative takes a backseat to rushed, profound lines like “Identity is a Swedish prison, comfortable but you still can’t leave.”

It’s also worth mentioning that these stories won’t pass the more permissive racial Bechdel test. The number of non-white references in this 200-page work won’t exceed a hand’s breadth, unless you count the few references to anime and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. The milieu of Honor Levy’s fiction is undeniably white and privileged, but her best stories exaggerate that milieu to great satirical effect. Perhaps his second book will contain more.

Leland Cheuk is the award-winning author of three fiction books, most recently Not good Very bad Asian. His writings appeared in The Washington Post, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle and Salonamong other points of sale.

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