Why read? For sometime, intellectuals have answered this question by staring mistily into the distance, possibly while fondling copies of their own books, and involving, in tremendous tones, something called ''inwardness'.

Lauren Oyler's first novel, ''Fake Accounts,'' is about many things : artifice, authenticity, being an American abroad, being an American at home.

But it is most thoroughly and exuberantly about the hunched, clammy, lightly paranoid, entirely demented feeling of being ''very online'' - the relentlessness of performance required, the abdication of all inwardness, subtlety and good sense. Of sighing in full recognition of those charges and opening another tab.

It was punishment for Dostoyevsky's characters to be tormented by all those voices, internal and external; now we call it being connected.

''So many people,'' Oyler writes, ''talking, mumbling, murmuring, muttering, suggesting, gently reminding, chiming ion, jumping in, just wanting to add, just reminding, just asking, just wondering, just letting that sink in, just telling -

Just saying, just wanting to say, just screaming, just ''whispering'', in all lowercase letters, in all caps, with punctuation, with no punctuation, with photos, with GIFs, with related links, Pay attention to me!''

This novel hinges on a disturbing discovery. The narrator, a blogger for a feminist website has been dating the saintly, slightly inscrutable Felix. She pokes around on his phone one night while he's sleeping and discovers his secret life on the Internet as a hugely popular conspiracy theorist.

Although the riter gestures to other contemporary novelists, to Ben Lerner and Elf Batuman - and in one excellent section to the film version ''Harriet the Spy'' [she identifies with Harriet's meanness] - the experience the novel most replicated for me was reading Twitter.

The book isn't written in little bursts or fragments [a form the narrator deplores, and parodies to good effect], but the tone is identical, that callow, quippy cleverness, the disdain.

In her forthcoming book, ''No One Is Talking About This,'' Patricia Lockwood writes that the Internet was once ''the place where you sounded like yourself. Gradually it had become the place where we sounded like each other.''

This tone is leavened, by Oyler, with heaping knowingness. My rent being so low that I am not going to tell you what it was, teetering as I am already on the border between likable to loathsome.''

On that knowingness : the novel's sections are titled ''Beginning,'' Middle [Nothing Happens], ''Climax,'' ''Ending.'' If I were doing the same in this review, I might name this paragraph, ''Yes, But,'' to announce that little Volta at the conclusion of a review in which the critic after enumerating a book's flaws, mystifying recommends it anyway.

''Yes, but,'' I say, for all its forceful and stylish prose, for Oyler's signature denunciation of moral equivocation and imprecision in thought and language. ''Yes, but'' O felt sharpened by it, grateful for its provocations.

In one scene, we see the narrator filling out a dating profile. How to describe herself? She settles on ''difficult but worth it.''

I might describe this novel similarly - not difficult nut maddening at times, too cautious, regrettably intent on replicating the very voice it critiques. But worth it, yes, especially if you're up for a fight, to liven up whatever inwardness remains to you,

The World Students Society thanks review author Parul Sehgal.


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