Patricia Lockwood's Infinite Scroll
New York magazine|February 15–28, 2021
The Twitter-famous poet’s first novel, No One Is Talking About This, moves between the body in space and the mind online.
By Joanne McNeil. Photograph by Pari Dukovic

The Internet deprogrammed Patricia Lockwood. It didn’t happen all at once. Raised in the Catholic Church, Lockwood spent the early years of her life absorbing her parents’ anti-abortion beliefs and activist language about the “Holocaust of infants.” But when she started visiting anti-abortion activist websites in the aughts when she was in her early 20s, she was put off by the treacly graphics and coarse design— how could they be serious? These facts can’t be real, she remembers thinking then. These statistics have to be fake because there’s this little dancing child graphic in the corner of the page or there’s a rose that’s slowly losing its petals. These websites destabilized something inside her, she said; they “opened a crack” for her to reevaluate what she had been taught.

At 38, Lockwood describes herself generationally as “between the books and the ether.” She remembers a time before the internet while still being young enough to immerse herself in it as it was developing— young enough that it could help set her life in motion. Online is where, at age 19, Lockwood met the man she would marry at age 21. It’s where she published her first writing and found her first readers through early diary blogs and poetry forums. And it’s where she uncovered the evidence she needed to shake her family’s anti-abortion stance for good: She came across infertility blogs on which women posted testimonies about what it was like to terminate their pregnancies in the third trimester. “This is the bogeyman scenario my parents talked about,” she said. But she could see that these women “really, really want to be parents.”

All that happened, though, in an internet culture of the past—no influencers jockeying for likes and retweets, no algorithms filtering what Lockwood would see. Nowadays, even anti-abortion activists are savvy with memes, and this recent internet is what Lockwood explores in her groundbreaking debut novel, No One Is Talking About This, out February 16. The author—who previously published two books of poetry and a memoir, 2017’s Priestdaddy—approaches the terrain as a disenchanted veteran. She describes the internet, which she calls “the portal,” as a “world pressing closer and closer, the spiderweb of human connection grown so thick it was almost a shimmering and solid silk.” If that sounds both intriguing and disconcerting, well, exactly.

The book features a Lockwood-like character who travels the world giving lectures, having found fame from a single post to a social network: “Can a dog be twins?” In its second half, the novel takes a left turn, as social media’s glittery absurdity is put in contrast with the offline demands of a family crisis. Throughout, Lockwood articulates her ambivalence about the internet while owning its influence on her life.

The writer, who lives in Savannah, was funny and animated during our conversations over Zoom and email despite her physical condition: She contracted the coronavirus last March and still feels its effects almost a year later. She spoke of the “excruciating pain” she has experienced while typing. It flares up when she feels stressed. “I’m just not physically cut out for this life, for this world,” she said. “My mind is insanely adapted to the present climate, the climate that’s witnessed by this book. But my body? Of course, it was going to end this way for me.”

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