Friday, August 4, 2023

Book Review: I'm a Fan

Sheena Patel’s incandescent first novel begins with the unnamed narrator describing her involvement in a seemingly unequal romantic relationship. With a clear and unforgiving eye, she dissects the behavior of all involved, herself included, and makes startling connections between the power struggles at the heart of human relationships and those of the wider world. I’m a Fan offers a devastating critique of class, social media, patriarchy’s hold on us, and our cultural obsession with status and how that status is conveyed.

Sex, brutality, politics, work, art, tenderness, humor—Patel tackles them all while making the reader complicit in the inescapable trap of fandom that seems to define the modern condition.

I'm a Fan is scheduled for publication on September 5, 2023. Graywolf Press provided an early galley for review.

Patel is very dialed into the extreme focus of her narrator; the woman's sentiment instantly rings true and is recognizable. The other key cast members - "the woman I am obsessed with" and "the man I want to be with" - are described and portrayed through a very controlled lens. That along with the lack of any names means the reader is left to map them by whatever guidelines they choose. The choice to go this route might be a challenge for some readers, but for the right audience it will connect.

The story is timely and touches upon aspects of modern society, especially those that followed closely by the younger generations. In particular, those individuals who have grown up entirely with the Internet and social media, those who look to "personalities" and "influencers" for determining what is in, cool, and trendy. This is the audience Patel is speaking too with a message, hopefully, they will heed.

The presentation, though, might prove to be the challenge for some readers. The narration is in short bursts (most chapters are a page or two in length), written in a stream-of-consciousness manner. The chapters are also non-linear with the story jumping around in time. These two elements give the story a scattershot aspect, mirroring the way social media can be non-linear and its users wanting that quick fix for those brief moments that they can get to check in on it. I feel readers will be on the extremes because of it - either love it or hate it.

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