Photo credit: Pete Voelker
Lauren Oyler’s debut novel Fake Accounts was published by Catapult in February 2021 and has been one of our shop’s bestsellers ever since.
Her essays on books and culture have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, London Review of Books, The Guardian, New York Magazine’s The Cut, The New Republic, Bookforum, and elsewhere. Born and raised in West Virginia, she now divides her time between New York and Berlin.
What would your ideal reader take away from Fake Accounts?
They would take away that it's an excellent book written by a real genius. But actually I hope readers take away many things, and not simply that the internet, or Brooklyn, or Berlin, or millennials, have created whatever alienating dynamics are described in the novel. I also hope they understand those dynamics as being totally realistic, not embellished for the sake of satire but absolutely plausible in the unbelievable world we live in. Though I also hope they think it's funny.
How did writing this novel change your relationship to the internet and to social media?
It's made me much more of an observer than a participant, which is nice. I now see the mechanics of various kinds of self-promotion and delusion very clearly, and I find them really fascinating to watch and I like to watch strangers' styles and self-conceptions change over time. This has naturally made me more careful about the kinds of things I say online, casually, without much thought, in case someone is watching me in return. And promoting the novel has changed my relationship to social media even more; even though it becomes very tedious and embarrassing, it's much better to just straightforwardly self-promote than to put on some elaborate show where you weaponize your emotions and try to get everyone's attention, which can often backfire.
Once I became, in the small way that writers can be, a "public figure" rather than a person who is in public, the unstable relationship I had with people I'd never met but had known for years, in some cases, became more stable, and not always in a positive way. There are still times when I want to post ideas or arguments or responses on Twitter—Twitter has always been the one I have a problem with—but I often don't end up doing it because the tone feels off now, too professionalized or something. All of this is not sad at all, but a relief. All of those relationships weren't fake, but they were vague and insubstantial, and that's part of why they can be so destabilizing.
Did you keep any particular books or authors close to you while writing Fake Accounts?
No, I didn't, but I also wasn't superstitious about being influenced or keeping my mind in the Fake Accounts zone. (I was reviewing books the whole time I was writing the novel anyway, so I was thinking about a lot of contemporary authors while I was working on it.) When I was about halfway through, I read Mating by Norman Rush for the first time, and it reminded me to maintain confidence in the narration, even when things are getting kind of weird, because that's part of what makes that book so good. I also reread The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt for a review of her work, and that reminded me of the sort of transcendence that can be possible through formal experimentation. But both books also reinforced my desire to write something that feels alive and unpredictable but still, er, relatable, if that makes sense—both of those books are totally brilliant, and unapologetically so, but they're not at all pretentious or intimidating. Unless you feel that any unfamiliar word or phrase is pretentious, in which case I can't help you.
What would you like to see change in the world of literature with the next generation of writers? What are you afraid we might lose?
I think American novels are improving, actually! But for a while they were extremely self-serious and melodramatic and totally burdened by a kind of watered-down politics that stifled anything interesting that might have come from them. I do think that there's still a lack of a sense of play and a willingness to take real risks that limits the novel—and people are so desperate to call things risky that are simply not risky at all. I also think not enough writers (and critics) care about style, which to a certain extent depends on playfulness and risk-taking.
Finally, what book do you associate with the time you spent living in Berlin?
This is a great question! Weirdly the thing that comes to mind is The Golden Notebook, which I read while I was spending a month in Athens while I lived in Berlin and itself doesn't have anything to do with Berlin at all. But the borderline mood and sense of resignation relate to the time for me, I guess. I sold it to Shakespeare and Sons when I moved away, in part due to a borderline mood and sense of resignation. Until recently, when I got another copy, I wondered if both decisions were mistakes. But OK, a better answer: a book that I read while there and which does take place in Berlin is Viktor Shlovsky's Zoo, or Letters Not About Love.
Interview by our bookseller Iti Libe