The portal, the protagonist realizes, “had also once been the place where you sounded like yourself. Gradually it had become the place where we sounded like each other, through some erosion of wind or water on a self not nearly as firm as stone.” She meets people at events on her tours who remember her old blog, and she remembers their blogs. “Tears sparked in her eyes instantaneously … His had been one of her very favorite lives.” But is any of this real? Real to whom? Real in what sense? Anyway, the self (whose self?) devised on the internet vanishes. “Myspace was an entire life,” she half-sobs at an event. “And it is lost, lost, lost, lost!”
The narrator’s endless, directionless tumble in time and language is interrupted by the hard stop of a very offline tragedy. Her younger sister, who is “leading a life that was 200 percent less ironic than hers,” is pregnant, and something has gone terribly wrong. The baby has Proteus syndrome, which causes tissues in some parts of the body to grow far out of correct proportion. The baby’s head is too big: She’s unlikely to survive birth, and certainly won’t survive infancy.
Proteus syndrome is a poetic choice here, an ironic choice even. It is a biological hyperbole suited to the sensibilities of the internet: runaway proliferation turning the body into a wildly exaggerated, Daliesque version of itself. It is surreality visited on the human form. With a less skillful writer, this would be a heavy-handed—or worse, manipulative—plot device, but the baby and her terminal condition turn the book into something unexpected: not a tragedy, but a romance. The baby is born and—improbably—survives, and Lockwood’s narrator is immediately and wholly lovestruck by this tiny creature and her runaway everything. “In every reaching cell of her she was a genius.” She is obsessed with the baby’s body, with the way the baby experiences the world purely physically and not in her mind, or in The Mind.
Her fingertips, her ears, her sleepiness and her wide awake, a ripple along the skin wherever she was touched. All along her edges, just where she turned to another state … The self, but more, like a sponge.
Through this baby, the narrator falls out of the life she spent “with a notebook, painstakingly writing ‘oh my god—thor’s hammer was a chode metaphor’ with a feeling of unbelievable accomplishment.” She falls “out of the broad warm us, out of the story that had seemed, up till the very last minute, to require her perpetual co-writing.” Now she realizes that it doesn’t need her co-writing, and that she maybe doesn’t care.
Through the membrane of a white hospital wall she could feel the thump of the life that went on without her, the hugeness of the arguments about whether you could say the word retard on a podcast. She laid her hand against the white wall and the heart beat, strong and striding, even healthy. But she was no longer in that body.
Lockwood uses the same language to describe the internet—a broad, warm body; a strong heartbeat—and the fragile corporeality of the baby, though those two domains are mutually incompatible. The baby the narrator can hold in her arms; the baby is broken and holy. The internet is elsewhere, voracious, profane. But they act on her similarly. The internet is a collective reality that swallows and reconfigures us—it is a kind of corpus. And so, of course, is the one truly universal human experience: confronting mortality. The truth of the body that suffers and fails is a reality—a hyper-reality, an inevitability—just as ready to swallow and reconfigure her. Which body does this narrator love? To which does she wish to ultimately belong?