Reviewed by Sarah Bezan
New Tab. Vehicule Press, 2014.
Guillaume Morissette's New Tab mixes the modern malaise of being a twenty-something millennial in Montreal (the hang-overs, the copy-and-paste winters, the roommates and shared apartments) with the minutiae of the technological quotidian. Stalking Facebook profiles and composing chat logs and emails on his phone and computer, the twenty-six-year-old protagonist, Thomas, a video-game designer, finds his new roommates with the help of a Craigslist ad, and together they operate an illegal backyard cinema in order to pay off a colossal hydro bill racked up by a previous tenant. At once earnest and caustic in tone, New Tab manages to capture some of the cynicism that defines a generation faced with economic uncertainty and technological inundation. While sometimes miscalculating the measure of pessimism felt by millennials, the success of Morissette’s novel lies in its adept assessment of the twenty-something experience––from the struggle to obtain a satisfying vocation to the frustrations of interpreting romantic intentions through digital mediums and the fortuity of stumbling upon a first-rate apartment. Although the narrator’s mordant self-deprecation periodically infuses the novel with a feeling of apathy that risks disengaging its audience, Morissette’s novel offers an amusing (if somewhat wry) assessment of Gen Y life through its deft portrayal of post-graduate life and its incisive depiction of a group of millennials attempting to not only survive, but to succeed.
Throughout the novel, Thomas, an earnest cynic, alternates between modes of attachment and detachment from the world of drugs, alcohol, an unsatisfying day job, awkward romantic entanglements, and his creative ambitions. Thomas’s pithy observations about life eventually lead him to more authentic social relationships and creative fulfillment by the novel’s close, but are nevertheless punctuated by a ruling attitude of mild derision for himself and others. Integral to Thomas’s evolution is an understanding of the hewing of age, and, in particular, of the characteristic messiness of being twenty-six. Introducing himself as a potential tenant to Brent over Craigslist, Thomas describes himself as “mid-twenties and not insane and drama-free” (9) but bemoans having the misfortune to keep “meeting people who I thought were my age but then turned out to be younger than me…It was confusing information to handle” (9). As a result, Thomas is disinclined to admit his true age to acquaintances. “To age,” Thomas thinks, “is to say, ‘I am awesome,’ and then, ‘No, wait,’ and then a long list of reasons why you’re not, with the list getting longer and longer each year” (47). For Thomas, the true test of age is an increasingly prevalent attitude of self-disdain.
Beyond age, New Tab also depicts the vagaries of social interactions and the downfalls of technology: “‘I got so smashed last night,’ read a Chat message from Shannon on Facebook” (11). Thomas replies: “‘I kind of wish I was regretting last night right now…I didn’t get your text until this morning. My phone fucked me over. I would have come’” (11). Online, social intelligence is structured around the mediations of iMessage, chat, email, and text. In real life, it is concomitantly elevated and demoted by tablets of MDMA and pints of beer. Yet “without the internet,” Thomas explains, “reality felt hollow, like a room without furniture” (35). Portraying the palpable discontent with (and yet interminable reliance upon) technology, Morissette’s novel manages to document the weird and unwieldy forms of communication that punctuate Thomas’s everyday life.
In its representations of technological mediation and of the social and personal malaise of millennials, Morissette’s writing is both wistful and intelligent. New Tab is a novel that undeniably captures an intriguing snapshot of the swirling chaos of being human in a world of wall-mounted television monitors, coffee vending machines, and default ringtones.
Sarah Bezan is a doctoral candidate enrolled in The University of Alberta’s Department of English and Film Studies. Her doctoral thesis, “Posthuman Postmortalities: The Human and Animal Carcass in Contemporary Fiction and Film” is funded by a SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship and an Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship. Sarah is a contributor to Mosaic, the Journal for Critical Animal Studies, the Journal of the African Literature Association, and Criterion.
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