Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte! Before my review, here’s the plot summary:
Capturing the anxious, self-aware mood of young college grads in the aughts, Private Citizens embraces the contradictions of our new century—call it a loving satire, a gleefully rude comedy of manners, Middlemarch for millennials. The novel’s four whip-smart narrators—idealistic Cory, Internet-lurking Will, awkward Henrik, and vicious Linda—are torn between fixing the world and cannibalizing it. In boisterous prose that ricochets between humor and pain, Private Citizens follows the four estranged friends as they stagger through the Bay Area’s maze of tech startups, protestors, gentrifiers, karaoke bars, house parties, and cultish self-help seminars, washing up in each other’s lives once again.
A wise and searching depiction of a generation grappling with privilege and finding grace in failure, Private Citizens is as expansively intelligent as it is full of heart.
There’s not much I can say that the above description doesn’t, but I’ll do my best to find something. Let me start, though, by saying that the book is indeed cleverly satirical and that the four main characters are certainly “whip-smart.” The various groups encountered — from “I’m-too-cool-to-be-here” house party attendees to protestors whose focus is spread too thin — are portrayed in ways that made me nod in agreement (“Yes! That’s exactly what that sort of person is like!”) and laugh out loud. My personal favorite was Handshake, a commercial, self-help seminar whose leader argues via vague (or just plain off-the-wall) affirmations like the following:
What’s our most lethal modern sickness? Cancer? You can beat it, like my wife did. Heart disease? Diet, exercise, and baby aspirin. No, the answer is cynicism.
Please tell me that you, too, are rolling your eyes.
I know that character likability isn’t the be-all and end-all value of a book, but I still want to mention that I pretty much hated every one of these characters. No one’s perfect, and maybe I just got to know these four a little too well, you know? But, in spite of the fact that I would actively avoid being in a conversation with any of them (except maybe Henrik), I still found myself concerned about them from time to time (my heart broke for Will, and Linda’s journal entries made her much more accessible).
My main complaint with this book is the sheer amount of jargon/insider language it contains on topics as varied as technological toys, philosophy, and Internet porn. If you’re a very specific sort of person, you’ll pick up on every reference and acronym, but otherwise these scenes potentially distance the reader. Maybe that’s the point, that even insiders are on the outside sometimes, but I found it more frustrating than anything.
Overall? It took me a while to get into this one. It was difficult to look past how much I disliked the characters. Once I did, I found it interesting, but the average reader may not stick around long enough to get into the rhythm of the book. If you do, you’ll read a smart, cleanly-written satire of the modern age.
That’s all for today. Be sure to check out the other tour stops (listed below)!
Tony Tulathimutte has written for VICE, AGNI, The Threepenny Review, Salon, The New Yorker online, and other publications. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Stanford University, he has received an O. Henry Award and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship. He lives in New York.
Wednesday, February 10th: Gspotsylvania: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts
Monday, February 15th: I’m Shelf-ish
Tuesday, February 16th: Raven Haired Girl
Thursday, February 18th: Dwell in Possibility
Monday, February 22nd: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, February 23rd: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, February 25th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, February 25th: A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, February 26th: Worth Getting in Bed For