Losing Our Religion: Consumerism in the Spotlight

Weirdness is a bit like humor; it is extremely idiosyncratic, such that if it’s not exactly your particular brand of weird, it just isn’t going to work for you.

A lot of classic cult content is like this. If, for example, you were born after 1985, I can almost guarantee you know someone who believes (probably aggressively) that the Cohen brothers are geniuses and The Big Lebowski is the greatest movie ever made. And, paradoxically, you also know someone who is (probably passive aggressively) rolling their eyes at anyone donning that now-iconic cardigan favored by The Dude.

If it isn’t obvious from the synopsis, it’s hard to read YTCHABLM as anything other than a searing takedown of almost every element of modern culture.

But as much as I appreciate social commentary, commentary without character is, to borrow Grubisic’s term, “aggravating.” Throughout the first section of the novel, A is so consistently affectless, I was convinced it was clinical (if you’ve read My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh’s protagonist shares a comparably empty emotional interior). But then, in the second section, A is so distraught by C’s disappearance from her life that she resorts to something only human beings capable of emotional intensity resort to — namely: desperate measures. In the context of her personality, the stalking (and the associated search for a crowbar) make absolutely no sense. The personalities of B and C similarly lack emotional resonance; they read more like character outlines than actual characters. Of course, given her refusal to bequeath her characters with even the most basic of identifiers — like names — it’s very likely that Kleeman intended to divorce readers from emotional landscapes that might distract from the novel’s Big Ideas. The result, intended or not, is that A, B, and C are little more than set pieces for a satire about the evils of commercial culture. I am convinced Kleeman is both intelligent and inventive (I absolutely loved her spin on “ghosting”) — but flat characters are my literary equivalent of a death knell. I’ll happily read an erudite essay on rampant consumerism, but if you’re going to write a conceptual novel, no amount of intelligence will substitute for well-developed characterization.

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Wynter K Miller

Wynter K Miller

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Wynter K Miller is an editor and writer in California. @wynterkm