The world as we know it is always changing. When Elon Musk took the helm of Twitter a mere week and a half ago, we were reminded just how flimsy and fragile social media can be. The echo chamber and the discourse have fed into our minds for decades now, enough to reverse-engineer how we go about our days. No wonder then that it has become the bedrock for some of the most sinister “social horror” novels in recent memory.
Now more than ever, it feels like a good time to drop back into a handful of harrowing social media-tinged books that encapsulate the hellscape of the social media-driven present.
Dennis Cooper graced us with arguably his most infamous book, The Sluts, at a time when social media was still a figment in the future. The internet was still mainly a stirring of messageboards and MySpace, but that didn’t keep Cooper from showcasing how the technology can bare the underlying darkness of any community when given the ability to ensnarl their desires and commodify their agendas.
The Sluts is set almost entirely inside an escort message board where clients rate and review their experiences with various escorts. When one particular escort becomes an ongoing topic of conversation, even the most depraved and desensitized clients begin to wonder and worry about who this escort is, and what might be fueling their self-destructive tendencies.
Yeager’s Negative Space is one of my all-time favorites (seriously if you haven’t read it, go check it out now!).
His first novel, Amygdalatropolis, is a heady yet highly intense page-turner of a novel that aims to read like a vertical slice of the inner brain of a computer. Here, social and media are intertwined into the very nature of using technology to become, the soul of a human being no longer able to be differentiated between text and code. Amygdalatropolis is wholly unique, and the narrative itself cannot be fully pitched in any linear form. And yet through all the online dialogue and use of internet speak, readers begin to see the infinite scroll of social media for themselves, and what’s looking back is truly horrifying.
Morrison’s novella #thighgap is part of the My Dark Library series curated by Sadie Hartmann for Cemetery Gates Media.
Though not intently a story about social media, Morrison manages to capture the voice and the pull of what we see on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s this hyper-fixation on validation and being a fully visualized brand, in this case, we see Helen Troy, a pencil-thin model doing all that she can to remain beautiful, wanted, and in the spotlight of the industry and its legion of opportunists. Helen is coming apart at the seams, a sort of Norma Jeane/Marilyn Monroe internal battle transpiring, the vision of who she was, the very essence of popularity being the thought that she cannot have a single percent of fat. In that web of mental illness and the drive to make none of it matter so as long as Helen can maintain the attention, Morrison has succeeded in capturing the deadly descent of a society that values brands over people.
I keep coming back to this novel and I think I finally understand why. It’s those kentukis, I just can’t get them out of my head. A kentuki is essentially a Furby that has a social media application built into it. It’s a viral sensation, one where people willingly buy a kentuki and store it in their homes, seemingly fine with the idea that someone else can gain access to the computerized toy and control it.
A morbid twist on webcam voyeurism, the users are all anonymous and can essentially be the “soul” that allows the toy to roll around, move, and “come alive.” Of course, give humanity the power to do with it whatever they will and you better believe things get beyond creepy real quick.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke
A must addition, because Eric LaRocca so masterfully captures what Cooper did in The Sluts, yet completely made its own by way of a series of text messages, emails, and other forms of social media correspondence.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke depicts two women who begin their friendship by way of an online advert selling a peeler. From almost zero to 60, the friendship becomes pure obsession. LaRocca doesn’t back away from the absolutely vile possibilities that our hyper-connected world can offer, especially when it seems like everyone is a mere DM or text message away from being your latest attack. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is pure nightmare fuel and a reminder that sometimes (often) we need to go “touch grass” and remind ourselves that there’s a world away from the never-ending text, the doom-ridden worry of an overloaded inbox.
Palahniuk is a household name for all-things speculative and depraved. In his novel Adjustment Day, Palahniuk aimed to essentially take the modern political landscape, particularly the viral politics and vitriol found in the political discourse, and paint a picture of an America at peak absurd.
The novel is wholly informed by the voice of social media, as though Palahniuk took Fight Club—particularly Project Mayhem—and proceeded to modernize it with the discourse brimming across the country online. The end result is surely a controversial read, and one that will help readers reexamine what “the discourse” even really is, and whether or not it’s merely another podium from which the absurdities of intent can be spewed.