“Still Here” Confronts The Dating Profile Afterlife
The blurb for Lara Vapnyar’s upcoming novel Still Here says the book is about an app that will keep digital profiles alive after the owner has died. The app will do this by searching for patterns the original poster used and applying those patterns to the account after death. Actually, that’s about as far as I got in the blurb before I knew I had to read this novel.
And yes, this story is about digital personas, how we craft our online identities, how we make our lives seem happier and fuller online, and how much our technology knows about us. And, yes, it’s about what happens to those personas when we die. But it’s also an unsentimental look at the relationships between exes and romantic near-misses.
Sergey, Vica, Vadik, and Regina were friends, and more than friends, back at university in Russia. But years later, after they’ve all immigrated to New York City for various reasons, their relationships evolved, becoming closer and strained at different times in realistic ways.
The four friends all struggle with the idea of happiness, and at various times, each character asks themselves why they’re not as happy as they should be, and why they’re not as happy as their friends. In many ways this is a very Russian novel, but the characters are fixated on our modern idea of competitive, conspicuous happiness.
There’s also a tech aspect to all of their stories, too. Regina, married to a successful millionaire husband, spends her days binge-watching and just plain binging, usually with an app to recommend her next Seamless order. Vica posts more happy Instagrams and status updates when she’s separated from her husband than when they’re getting along well. Vadik and his girlfriend use Skype to stay close, or possibly to keep each other away. Early in the novel, Sergey comes up with the idea for an app to keep digital profiles alive after the user’s death, and he pitches this to potential investors several times. We can see the novel’s themes of happiness and technology even in the descriptions of a nervous would-be developer presenting to various egocentric investors.
Overall, Still Here is a wonderful novel about performing happiness online, and the evolution of the friendships we formed when we were young.
Still Here will be published by Hogarth on August 2, 2016.