Jonathan Lethem: “My Internet”

Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers).  Jonathan Lethem’s “My Internet” was originally published in the June 4 & 11, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.

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So, it’s the science-fiction issue of The New Yorker, and we get four pieces of fiction.  For whatever reason, rather than introduce readers of The New Yorker to science-fiction writers, the editors have opted to give us more of the same.  The four authors who offer us fiction: Sam Lipsyte, Jennifer Egan, Junot Díaz, and, here, Jonathan Lethem.  Both Díaz and Lethem were published in the magazine as recently as April.

To be honest, I’m not excited to read any of these pieces (I’ve been trying to get through Egan’s as it’s been tweeted, but more on that later), so I decided to read the shortest first.  “My Internet” is only four columns spread over two pages.  I could use some help with this one, because I felt it hardly worth the short time it took to read it once yet read it a second time, getting not a single thing extra for my troubles.  It begins like this:

I have an Internet within the Internet.  It is my very, very own Internet, a place like the one that is known to you except that it is not known to you — it is mine alone.  No one else may go there.

I haven’t read a lot of Jonathan Lethem, and while I didn’t like his recent “The Porn Critic,” which was published in the April 9, 2012 issue of The New Yorker (my thoughts here), I have been at least on the positive side of indifference, but this opening sounded quite cute and self-aware, something I don’t have a lot of patience with apparently.  At this point, I was already working up the will to continue reading.  I’m getting more and more grumpy with these, I know.

The nameless narrator goes on to describe the three levels of the Internet.  There’s the general one; it’s the one you’re using to read this post, and it’s for anyone.  Back when the Internet began and there were only 200 users, a leader foresaw many problems with the general Internet — “difficulties such as those with anonymity and masquerade and the lemminglike migratory waves of popular hatred that have come to define the Internet” — and he proposed an equal split: 100 users to the general one, which has continued to grow, and 100 users for his exclusive Internet, which continues to have 100 users, even when someone leaves or is kicked out.  Our narrator is still feeling the negative effects, though:

Yet lately I’ve felt the urge for a deeper foray, the need for a more profound exclusion, and it is this which has led me to the creation of an Internet entirely of my own.

I found the short piece fairly boring and the clever ending weak payoff.  I’m looking for help with this one, in other words.  And now, on to the other, longer pieces.

4 thoughts on “Jonathan Lethem: “My Internet””

  1. Elliot says:

    I have to agree with you on this one. After several weeks of great stories this one not only comes up short but leaves me feeling slighted. I didn’t like the lack of characters and the endless ambiguity becomes tiring and makes me feel restless. I had to force myself to pursue the ending which was trite and a sloppy attempt to be shocking. I didn’t love The Porn Critic but the characters were amusing. This story just doesn’t develop into anything.
    I am going to read the other stories but I’m already looking forward to next week’s fiction.
    On another note, after enjoying Maile Meloy’s story from two weeks ago, “The Proxy Marriage”, I was inspired to buy one of her short story collections, “Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It” and I have enjoyed several of the stories. Her writing style is very fluid and soulful with subtle life lessons for all.

  2. Trevor says:

    Elliot, as you may have seen by now, I at least enjoyed the Egan story. I’ve had a few false starts with the Lipsyte (and I usually don’t like his stuff) and haven’t yet attempted the Diaz, whom I also usually don’t like. We will see!

    I’m thrilled you ended your comment on such a positive note as Meloy! I hope her next story isn’t years away!

  3. Ken says:

    I thought this was fine. I guess it’s nothing original but it took 5 minutes to read, and when something is that short I’m not overly demanding it be revelatory. I saw this as a comment about how people always feel that “their” obscure bands/movies were better before widely known. It also seemed an amusing study in paranoia and the unreliable narrator. Again, no great shakes but no great time out of my life taken to read it.

  4. Aaron says:

    I was going to agree with Ken and say that even if there’s not all that much here, it’s not exactly a pain to read, and that it does at least hint at the deleterious effect the mass Internet has, breaking us into anonymous but not individual components of something ultimately worthless (filled with money and animals). But after reading the way Egan looks at personal identity, I’m more dissatisfied with the way Lethem seems to hint at a possible story — this Darwinian experiment; perhaps the narrator is AI, encouraged to “create” his own world so that we might see what an AI god might do — only to leave it up to the reader to do all the real work. I can’t help but think that had he written more comically, this would’ve been a great “Shouts and Murmurs” piece; only as a short story is it a failure. bit.ly/KS0KfK

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