It’s a pretty rare occurrence for me to be scared by a book anymore. And I’m not saying that as a way of bragging, just that after you’ve seen so many horror movies and read or written so many stories, it gets harder and harder to get to that emotional place.
That being said, it’s well within the realm of possibility that I can be disturbed by a book. And this brings us to the topic for today, Literary Stalker, by Roger Keen.
This is the story of a young, aspiring author, Nick, whose current work is a book titled, The Facebook Murders, in which his fictional protagonist goes on a small murder spree, killing people who had wronged him or tried to damage his career. I find stories relating to stalkers to be unsettling enough, especially in the social media landscape. Keen managed to take this concept and make it disconcerting on multiple levels.
As the book progresses, we quickly learn that Nick’s protagonist might not be as fictional as we initially thought. Nick also seems to have an unhealthy infatuation with a popular novelist that he was lucky enough to meet once. His excessive fantasizing about a non-existent relationship leads him down a dark road that causes his real life to spill over into his fiction and back to reality.
The book is told in the first person but there are also excerpts from Nick’s book, seen from the point of view of his character. At times, it was a little confusing to me remembering whose voice I was reading but I think that only served to amplify the experience of the story. A major question you will be confronted with over the course of this book is going to be where fantasy ends and reality begins. The fact that the narrative occasionally feels like unsteady footing underneath you is important to the overall experience.
Another layer of grit to this story is the way it depicts social media and more specifically, how authors make use of the various platforms. As a writer myself, I often have little patience for how writers are depicted as characters, arguing with my book that no one is really like that.
With Literary Stalker, Keen shines a light on a lot of online behaviors in a way that felt very familiar to me. To be honest, even though I feel like my conduct online is above board and legitimate, after reading this book, it’s hard to not feel just a little dirty, fishing around online for sales and making connections in this small, yet elusive community. I saw the petty bickering between people, the contest for likes and shares, the ridiculous fights that blow up into wars because fans and friends of an author take up arms against their hero’s apparent assailant.
This is going to sound like a criticism at first so please bear with me. The format of the book, a sort of nested doll structure with the book within the book was a little hard to follow at times. Especially listening to it with the text to speech feature on my phone, I had to double back a few times to make sure I was straight.
Normally this wouldn’t be a good thing but in this case, I felt like it actually enhanced the experience of the story. This is a narrative where getting inside the mind of the protsgonist is essential. Understanding that perspective is key in order to prevent the entire thing from falling apart like a thin-walled house of cards.
All throughout, as Nick’s delusions become clearer, the nature of the book he is writing becomes less clear. Is this really just a novel he’s writing? Or is it a fictionalized expression of his unspoken desires, with the names changed to protect the innocent? Or is Nick providing an account of things he has actually done, under the cloaking shield of his made-up characters? The protagonist of Nick’s book is also an author so do we have it reversed? Are the so called excerpts from his book actually reality with “Nick” being the work of fiction?
I don’t know the answers to any of these. I think you can make an argument for most of those positions and I enjoy contemplating them. What I think matters is that as you dive deeper into the book, you only get a stronger sense of this account being the product of an increasingly chilling and fractured mind.
This was a book that I wasn’t overly excited for based on the description so I did want to stress that if you might be interested, don’t take the description too much to heart. Because I feel like the way the story is laid out in the copy doesn’t convey the depth of the story or how affecting the protagonist’s outlook is. I use Facebook on a regular basis and even I felt compelled to think about my own online persona as well as the people I interact with. One major aspect of social media is that it creates the illusion of intimate friendship, but how are we to know who is really behind the curtain of the profile pictures we interact with?
If you are an author, I would definitely reccomend checking this out. Whether or not this was the intended message, it shines a stark light on the conventional wisdom that we need to have a presence online. That we devote so much of our time chasing likes and shares and comments that sometimes we forget that we’re supposed to be writing, too.
It’s easy to write off the main character of this book as an apocryphal exaggeration of a character type that could never really exist. The uncomfortable reality is that there are probably more people than we realize who could be on the road to becoming a Nick. Are we doing ourselves any good by handing over our time to this online community? Or are we just spinning imaginary clothes to act as a thin drape over our own whithering self-image and need for acknowledgement and recognition? Are we inviting delusional and dangerous people into our lives out of our need for that fabled thumbs-up? I would like to think that this isn’t the case.
Nick might suggest otherwise.