Young, Cool, Coddled and Raised on the Internet

MY FIRST BOOK, by Honor Levy

“Thank God I won’t have to deal with the internet.” According to Bruce Jay Friedman, those were the last words his friend Mario Puzo ever said to him. We forget — or at least I do — how many writers from the last century made it into the age of email. Muriel Spark lived long enough to write a series of online diaries for Slate.

We count on our best young fiction writers to bring us news from the digital nervous system. Honor Levy, in “My First Book,” a collection of stories that is indeed her first book, does so with special bite and élan. What does she sound like when she plugs in? Here is the start of “Love Story,” this collection’s opener.

It was Harold Ross’s policy, when he was editor of The New Yorker, never to run a poem he did not understand. I responded to the way these sentences crackled even before I looked up “haplogroups” and learned that they are genetic classifications.

Levy maintains this tone, and this frazzled online love story, across nine pages. The cultural information piles up vertiginously. Reading Levy is what it must have felt like to read Ann Beattie on her generation in the early 1970s.

The bottom falls out of “Love Story,” or perhaps there was no floor to begin with. Online the young man is Pyramus, and the girl is Thisbe: “He’d burn a church for her.” He thinks, “I’m Ryan Gosling in Drive. I’m American Psycho. I’m Joker. I’m Taxi Driver. About her, we read, “Her thousand-yard stare said she’d been on the carousel, in the trenches, and under the apple tree.”In real life, she’s a teen with her parents in an Olive Garden. He’s in a Wal-Mart aisle.They are about to withdraw back into their carapaces. And so here we are, convincingly lost amid America’s memes and mirrors in 2024, among what Joyce in “Finnegans Wake” called “the unhappitents of the earth.”

Levy is a young Bennington graduate from California, who has published stories in The New Yorker and New York Tyrant. She has a fine intake filter; her book unloads a ton of fresh writing. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she was encouraged to publish “My First Book” too soon. The falloff is steep between this book’s best stories and its lesser ones, a few of which I suspect were typed on a MacBook a long time ago.

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