Peak Millennial Unlocked; Send MemesThe new Dorota Maslowska novel is a ruthless critique and clever parody of the world within and around us.
Twenty-something Farah (Fah to her friends) is taking a personality quiz when a note falls out of the magazine. For a moment, Farah is enchanted. Her days seem not so dull and worthless anymore, with this letter she’s found, seeped with whispers of heated desire. And then, just as abruptly, she realises that those breathless exhortations were not meant for her. With that, comes a plunge directly into gloom and despair.
What could be more millennial than this: a youngster’s life so empty and meaningless that she hopes to salvage it through a letter tucked in Yogalife? Failing at which, she slides into instant depression. This is just the beginning of how Polish author Dorota Masłowska’s novel ‘Honey, I Killed the Cats’ shreds the vapid millennial culture that is filled with advertisements, commodities, and shallow relationships.
The author revels in uprooting this millennial hope of ‘balancing our chakras’ through kale juices and Pilates while our mental health is ripping apart seam to seam. She mocks the intense food deprivations we go through the entire week, only to binge eat our feelings and fears come weekend.
She throws shade at newfound Buddhists; just-turned vegans; coffee addicts; sartorial choices; those who don’t have ‘five million friends on Facebook.’ The novel is a quirky observation, ruthless critique and clever parody of the world within and around us.
In this world, Fah is a character millennials dread turning into: someone who receives no mail, except for breast enlargement (and brain reduction), is at the outcast fringes of social media; is shunned by users of dating sites. Her only distraction is a plethora of sexual dreams starring long-forgotten boyfriends and distant acquaintances.
To this distressed germaphobe Fah, who sneaks out antibacterial gel at every opportunity, Joanne is the antipode. Soon after, Joanne, who “wore greasy, flag-red lipstick, ironed her hair straight, so that it looked fake, and every morning, first smearing her legs in moisturizer until they shined like glass, she would run a pencil straight up to her butt, so that under the appropriate shade of stockings it would look like a seam”, becomes Fah’s best friend.
Masłowska’s piercing gaze takes in everything, from the exterior scuffles and snarls to the ‘mounds of loneliness’ in her characters. And then she replicates these personas and emotions on paper. But not in ordinary words. The descriptions that pour out of her are so extraordinary and compelling; irreverent and wild; laughable and shocking that they hold the entire book together. The plot is there, somewhere, lost within the wilting power and scathing beauty of this detailing.
For example, a person’s teeth in the September sunshine ‘like the keyboard of some expensive instrument.’ The colour of someone’s hair is ‘artificial chestnut lacquered to the point of perfect imperviousness to the most severe weather conditions.’
Heels are ‘plucked off and decentered like they were cross-eyed’; someone smells ‘like a goat that’s just brushed its teeth’; another person is a ‘hard-pickled ham pimped out with legs’; a jacket becomes a ‘little fry-scented cloud;’ a cigarette spins to the ground like ‘like an itty-bitty burning ballerina, or a ‘shard of a Christmas star smashed by hoodlums.’
All these astounding similes make for an enjoyable and imaginative read. Even more arresting is more drawn-out images, tapping into the soul of a person and the character of a place. This description of the city at dusk, for example, is careless, indifferent even, and yet so accurate and tender: “The evening city was seething in its basin-like black soup garnished with glass and light, bubbling over with secrets and excess; dogs barked, the subway wailed, someone who’d been raped on had merely had her handbag snatched was screaming horribly in the distance, and artificial fires flared into the darkness over the river, promising that, still, anything could happen.’
This sense of marvel and curiosity for the coming moment, an uncertainty that permeates the characters’ action and the world they inhabit, is built a little higher in every page. Everything is an experiment in the absurd—reckless and rambunctious. The work mocks the seriousness with which we take ourselves as we continue to destroy the ecology and social structures and our very bodies that were meant to revel in this. And suddenly we are transferred to a surreal world where mermaids long to be humans, decorating themselves with human waste, that makes us want to hide ourselves in shame.
This admonishing and chastising is barely solid or directly accusatory, it is like vapour, a quickly flowing liquid that never settles and is difficult to define or contain. This makes the novel itself so wispy you would fail to describe to another just what it was about or what it means. You read and laugh and struggle to understand the inside jokes that are funny and frightening. And somehow the spool of plot unravels and scuttles away, never to be found again. So you reread and forget, flip back and comprehend the contempt the words emit even better the second time around, and so on.
The slim novel is a parody of our times, and yet it is also the revelation of every truth that we would like to hide. It unearths the façade erected of yoga pants and healthy diets; social media influencing and soul-finding trips. It sees beyond the attempt at collective humor and memes to bandage our loneliness and depression. Nowhere is this farce as clear as it is during an absurd art exhibition. A newly-introduced character advising Fah on art is hilarious because it is so true, “Take a couple of dirty Q-tips and use an Ikea pencil to draw a dick.”
And in making this intense work of art available to the English-speaking public much thanks must be given to the translator, Benjamin Paloff. All translation is difficult but this one must have been especially arduous, and yet it flows so naturally it never once seems envisioned in any other language.
One last line from this peculiar, clever novel that is ensnared in its own madness: “Jed had just left for lunch (which usually consisted of gulping down ten glasses of wine at a nearby bar) (not the glasses, of course) (they were too non-alcoholic!)
And then, in the middle of this chaos, “No no, I’m kidding,” says the narrator.