33. Sad Desk Salad, Jessica Grose

18 Nov

I have personal sympathy for the young, female writers of lightweight pseudo-autobiographical novels. I have written two. It’s the kind of thing a girl does when she’s funny and talented, probably a professional writer in some capacity, and she can’t come up with anything better. These books sell on a proposal. The author pays off her credit-card debt, hopes her cover won’t be too chick-lit (see end of post: I’m saving that horror for last) and prays to transcend the genre.

Sad Desk Salad is one of these. The writer, Jessica Grose, wrote for Jezebel, a beacon of funny, feminist opinion-writing online. Her “novel” is about a writer at a women’s gossip website clunkily renamed Chick Habit. But unfortunately, the desk-salad thing is one of the few funny, Jezebel-like things in the book. The real site excels at realism, anger, mess and fluid. Grose’s fictional universe is false, dull and conventional. Will little “Alex” get a more meaningful job, make up with her banker boyfriend and stop wearing that unflattering muumuu? Seriously, did I just read a book about that?

Some of the flaws of this book are systemic. There’s a dominant-culture appetite for self-exploitation by young women. Kludging a trite, cliche, formulaic “plot” onto the truth of your life is a condition for selling a book like this. And it’s also the kind of violation the corporate-creative complex thrives upon. It takes a bite out of the writer’s soul, it subtly cheapens and deadens us all, and it makes money. Excellent!

But still, this book was pretty bad. The moral quandary, such as it is, is about Alex’s struggle to keep evidence of her own youthful transgressions offline while she benefits from writing bitchy posts about other innocent young women. Should she post the video of a topless, coke-doing celeb kid? Or not?  Journalists! They’re morally indefensible. She even quotes Janet Malcolm.

And she is totally missing the point. Free speech on the Internet, practiced even irreverantly by sites like Jezebel, is one of the few countervailing forces we have against corporate totalitarianism. A platform that lets relative nobodies say whatever the fuck they want to millions of people, as long as it’s entertaining, is a good thing. Moreover, a white daughter of a famous family-values celeb, attending a posh college, doing coke, is not an innocent. She already bears social responsibility, she’s already in the game. The post about her was news. News is another good thing. A reporter with some balls would cover it and shut up.

Little Alex writes up the coke video for the glory, then the drama between herself and the celeb kid fuels the rest of the book. Two handmaidens of a collapsing society run afoul of each-other about some unimportant personal-identity bullshit. I suffered, I really did.

Which is too bad, because there are things to be said about blogging, corporate creativity and our souls, but I don’t think Grose could figure out what they were. She had the desk-salad bit, the limp mescalun, the etiolated existence under fluorescent lights, doing something lesser than we wanted to do, being less than we wanted to be, eating something easy and empty. Probably with a hangover. But she didn’t know where to go with it.

And oh, did she not get lucky on that cover:

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