I'm a Fan by Sheena Patel: book review
Overview: Our narrator has contorted her life into quite a predicament. She's bored in her relationship with her dependable but completely stale boyfriend that she lives with. She's found herself embroiled in an affair with a powerful, well regarded man who is married and has another lover as well. She is consumed by him and by his lover and his wife, and she'll let it destroy the shell of a life she's built on her own. Through a very narrow scope, we live in her intense obsession for 200 pages. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 I feel weird saying that the characters in this book were good because they hardly existed, but it was also kinda fascinating? I don't really know how to talk about this book, and I'm just going to preface this entire review with that statement.
Every character in this book only exists within an extremely narrow lens. They are not multifaceted. They are not particularly developed. But that's the point. We have the unnamed narrator that we only learn about through her reactions to a select few other people. We aren't introduced to where she lives, where she works, her past, her family. There's incidental tiny bits and pieces, but they almost aren't significant. She's only filtered to us either through her actions in response to others or her thoughts about art or influencers. You get an image but in an extremely patchwork way, and she's the quintessential Moshfegh style narrator that makes you feel gross when you relate to her unflinchingly honest and twisted thoughts about relationships. The glimpses when the narrator goes to visit her mom are some of the most humanizing that put her in a softer light where she's able to gain dimension beyond her jealousies and preoccupations. The scenes with her mother feel distinctly different, and it's an interesting contrast.
The two other characters of focus are "the woman I'm obsessed with" and "the man I want to be with." None of the significant characters have names, only the side characters. We're told "the man I want to be with" is successful, and it's implied he's rich and has high social capital. As the novel progresses, we're left to wonder how much she loves this man and how much she's captivated by what a public relationship with him could offer her. We know he doesn't treat the women in his life well, and he's flighty. But we only learn about him in the context of their long running but low interaction affair, so we don't glean much. He's more of a space for the narrator to project on to sort out her desires.
"The woman I am obsessed with" is "the man I want to be with"'s other lover that's also not his wife. She's a nepotism baby and an Instagram influencer, popular for curating a gorgeous life using her inherited wealth and fame. Much of the book is spent dissecting the way this woman chooses to present her life online and cutting into her many privileges – wealth, fame, whiteness, a blue checkmark, a network of successful people at her disposal – against the main character's very different world. It's an interesting mediation on the present moment and how people have come to present themselves online.
Plot: 4 This isn't a novel big on plot. There's the affair that doesn't progress much. When it actually bleeds into the narrator's real life with her actual boyfriend, I was shocked at the development. It's a stagnant entanglement. For much of what's covered in the book, "the man I want to be with" refuses to have sex with the narrator and rarely meets with her. They talk but hardly enough to call it an emotional affair. For a year fascinated with situationships, it's no wonder this book has captured the bookish internet.
Most of this novel exists within the main character's mind. She stews over her realities and the lives of others. She thinks about art. She spends a ridiculous amount of time learning about this influencer in a way that's uniquely allowed by the time we live in. If you think a lot about the Internet and what it means and want a very of the moment microcosm to look at a very messed up relationship in 2023, you'll like this book. There's a reason why people either think it deserves literary prizes or don't finish it. It's polarizing, and I'm oddly neutral about it.
Writing: 4 This is very deep first person, which I'm declaring a thing. There's regular first person novels and then there's novels where the rumination is all there is. It's a book of thoughts. The only reason you can get through it is because these thoughts are written as 1-5 page long vignettes with funny chapter titles and a variation in topics the thoughts are presented on. Almost like an anthology of essays by a fictional person. It's abrasive and weird and kinda fascinating. I think a lot about the internet and what it does to us as people, so I enjoyed the book. But I certainly get how it's not for everyone. And I also get why people struggle to talk about what it is or isn't.
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