Book Review: Fake Accounts // Lauren Oyler


The young protagonist of Fake Accounts describes herself as “a toxic presence”, spends a finger-joint-crushing amount of time on social media, and to further mark out her self-involvedness, is writing an autofiction book. Yet, unlike many other potentially poisonous presences in contemporary writing, she does not seek to redeem herself through arriving at an overused novelistic entelechy. At first, the discovery of her boyfriend’s secret alt-right conspiracy Instagram account indeed sparks determination within her, as she is “overtaken by a sense of purpose” to excavate and shatter Felix’s online persona. She visualizes dramatic kick-outs or sly account infiltrations, all offering her a “chance to be purely and entirely the good one”. 

You know this is a mere iteration, a mockery of performative do-gooders, especially when she decides to, instead, make him some pancakes, elaborating on the venture of buying ingredients for about as long as she entertained different imaginary scenes of confronting the problem. Compulsively checking the profile for new posts, the act becomes more of an automatic tic of curiosity than a righteous addition of fuel to the fire. There is no burning need for justice in Oyler’s main character; if anything, Felix is dismissed as “beyond the pale” and not worth the labour of understanding. 

Oyler rejects the ubiquitous need for moral correctness that permeates today’s writing; she does what she preaches and throws the dichotomy of good/bad personhood out the window (@morality has left the chat), precisely by letting her character passively ingest this outrageous information without attempting to unpick her boyfriend’s motives and be vocal about her disillusionment. “Though she could rest on her morals, a good person is always trying to do better—not in a capitalist, life-hacking way, but in terms of acknowledging and improving the lives of others.” As the notorious meme goes: We don’t do that here.

While the protagonist is intensely analytical, her hermeneutics does not extend much beyond theoretical interpretation and awareness of modern-day global issues, as if to repress the overwhelming ideal of individual goodness. Even her seamless relocation to Berlin after Felix’s death, undoubtedly demonstrating a lot of privilege, conveys an eerie sense of cancel culture always lurking about, waiting for an empty acknowledgement to set the record straight: “I had no real problems. Nothing pressing or logistical or financial or governmental or even really at that point emotional (she insisted) held me back. Usually when you have these sort of searching bourgeois-white-person narratives you have to offer a disclaimer, I know my problems do not rank in comparison to the manifold sufferings of most of the world’s people… but, but this preamble isn’t meant to be perfunctory, a tick on a checklist; I really mean it as a point to be made in itself. Nothing was wrong. I had no problems. And yet I had problems.”

The last sentence especially presents a challenge to contemporary pressures, which often result in meaningless utterances of performative politics misrepresented as goodness. This paragraph is a perfect loop that goes from personal to global and back to personal again. Oyler criticised this move in Jia Tolentino’s lauded essay collection Trick Mirror, calling Tolentino one of the “hysterical critics”, a bunch of narcissistic writers who “can make any observation about the world lead back to their own lives and feelings, though it should be the other way round”. For them, similar disclaimers are essential. In Fake Accounts, they are a source of ambiguity about whose account is truly honest. Oyler wittily plays with the reader’s expectations of the character’s purpose in the novel and in society as a whole, which is encapsulated in her job description, where everything she says online may be “meaningless and impermanent as well as potentially hugely significant”. 

Despite or perhaps because of her open cynicism and relentless negativity—that may be symptomatic of the 2016 post-election interregnum: the realization “that we were too late” to prevent the world’s end—she plunges fully into the digital world to add to proliferating narratives. Somewhat fortunately, she opts only for fake stories about herself, and goes all out on OKCupid, dating the whole Zodiac to “provide structure”. When an overzealous Leo confesses to having read all her work, she is “uncomfortable but also euphoric”, smugly thinking he could “come up with a theory” based on his extensive knowledge of her. She proceeds to aggressively flirt with him before running away, rushed out by her sudden lack of anonymity.

The narrator delights in fooling people; she lies to everyone around her unscrupulously. Her life in Berlin is in itself a structure similar to astrology, which is unreal, yet “real enough to influence real people”, an array of conspiratorial narratives. And we are left thinking, sadly: this is reality. 

Words by Petra Lindnerova

This article was published as part of The Indiependent‘s May 2021 magazine edition.

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