Marking the end of ‘youthful obnoxiousness’

Former pop-culture blogger Emily Gould comes of age in her first full-length fiction work.

Emily Gould first achieved ‘mini-celebrity status’ blogging for the pop-culture commentator website Gawker. (photo credit: LISA CORSON)
Emily Gould first achieved ‘mini-celebrity status’ blogging for the pop-culture commentator website Gawker.
(photo credit: LISA CORSON)
Why is everybody so angry with Emily Gould? Is it the excessive attention she is getting for her smart and observant semi-autobiographical novel about two female friends navigating their late 20s, as disillusionment beckons? Is it because almost everywhere you look, there is coverage about Gould that documents her, up to now, pretty lucky life?
Many magazine profiles show her pouting; she is an attractive Jewish girl with large tattoos and overly serious eyes that conceal her inner turbulence. Is some of the bitter resentment surfacing on the Web and in many book reviews simply still lingering anger from those who remember her days as a snarky blogger for famous pop culture commentator Gawker, where she took potshots at many of her colleagues and other New York luminaries? Or is it simply Gould’s seeming refusal to be impressed with much of anything? Indeed, she possesses a kind of inbred cynicism and coolness that in high school allowed her to pass notes to her friends with catty and cruel observations about other students and teachers, seemingly without much remorse. This talent served her well at Gawker, but as Gould matured, she wanted a creative life; a serious writer’s life; one that required quiet contemplation and the ability to live without the adrenalin rush of the Internet.
Gawker brought Gould almost instant mini-celebrity status and respectable financial compensation for a 24-year-old girl who had just recently moved to Manhattan. But the initial euphoria of having hundreds of people respond to her posts with equal measures of adulation and condemnation soon turned into an anxiety-provoking enterprise, which propelled Gould into therapy after suffering debilitating panic attacks.
Like so many of her generation, Gould became almost inextricably connected to the Internet despite the fact that it agitated her. She began to think about herself in terms of the responses she received each day; allowing the obscure rants of strangers to determine her sense of self and security and assuredness. It was a psychological recipe for disaster.
She left Gawker, and a new serious boyfriend who was also a writer soon emerged. They departed together for Russia, where she began to write, seriously unplugged from all that had once held her. She describes this time as marking “the end of my youthful obnoxiousness.”
Her new novel about two friends explores the hurdles young people encounter while trying to find their place in the world; particularly in the fast-paced competitive arena of New York, where a large creative underclass fight with each other to get noticed.
In the novel, Bev Tunney and Amy Schein are now 30 – and more adrift that ever. Bev finds herself pregnant from a onenight stand, and in financial debt from a graduate program she never finished. She is now temping and looking for a way out of her current predicament.
Amy, clearly based on Gould, is beginning to recognize the destructive patterns that have resulted in her current malaise.
Gould writes perceptively, “Amy knew that all her compulsivity and procrastination had been about avoiding one simple, fairly obvious truth: Her life in New York, in the form it had taken since she graduated from college, was over. The lies she had been telling herself about job applications and reinventing herself as a consultant were just that: lies. A change was looming, as necessary and unpleasant as vomiting in the restaurant had just been, and like the vomiting, it would happen whether or not she wanted it to. The only thing she could control was whether it happened sooner or later, in private or in public.”
Amy can’t quite believe how quickly her life has disintegrated into something she no longer recognizes. She remembers just a short time ago, before quitting her job and losing her apartment, the certainty that “she and Sam would move in together, get married, and have children. If he called her on the phone right now, it would take a moment to recognize the sound of his voice.”
Gould is terrific at demonstrating the tidal waves of erratic feelings that infuse the young; moments of certainty interspersed with moments of doubt that seem to overwhelm and then vanish. The novel is clearly an attempt by this budding author to find her own voice, unencumbered by the outside forces that have always held her hostage.
At this, Gould both succeeds and fails. There are moments of insight and clever description, but an absence of an assured novelist’s voice. Anyone who has read her past essays knows Gould possesses such skills.
For example, in an essay she wrote about her evolving self in 2008, regarding tensions with her then-boyfriend about what she was sharing about him on the Web, she wrote candidly, “As Henry and I fought, I kept coming back to the idea that I had a right to say whatever I wanted. I don’t think I understood then that I could be right about being free to express myself, but wrong about my right to make that self-expression public in a permanent way.
“I described my feelings in the language of empowerment: I was being creative, and Henry wanted to shut me up. His point of view was just as extreme: I wasn’t generously sharing my thoughts; I was compulsively seeking gratification from strangers at the expense of the feelings of someone I actually knew and loved.
“I told him that writing, especially writing about myself and my surroundings, was a fundamental part of my personality, and that if he wanted to remain in my life, he would need to reconcile himself to being part of the world I described.”
Her voice here is immediate and raw and authentic and compulsively readable; unlike much of her novel, which is further muted by her third-person narration. If this book were rewritten as a first-person coming-of-age memoir, it would be a blockbuster.