My First Book by Honor Levy - review by Ella Fox-Martens

Ella Fox-Martens

Self-Portrait with Browser History

My First Book

By

Granta 220pp £12.99
 

Honor Levy shot to quasi-fame in 2020 when the New Yorker published ‘Good Boys’, which is less a short story than a hysterical collection of fragments. The central premise is that boys call girls bitches, but only some girls. The narrator is desperate not to be one of these. The story culminates in a skilful paragraph in which nearly every sentence begins with the word ‘dogs’. Frenetic and ironic, ‘Good Boys’ is a teetering Jenga tower. Remove any of the base pieces and you’ll see the whole thing come tumbling down. Levy uses a suite of references to situate ‘Good Boys’ in the milieu of the American upper middle class, while gesturing towards the embarrassment of belonging to such a category in the first place. There are references not only to Bennington College (Levy’s alma mater) and Bard, but also Berghain, Karelias and Sons tobacco, and a list of European cities, the names of which convey grotty sophistication. Levy cites Joan Didion, Norman Mailer and Eve Babitz as inspirations. Like those writers, she is interested in chronicling and savaging the structures of contemporary American life – or, more accurately, the life of her university contemporaries, which mostly happens online and in New York.

Levy’s debut collection, My First Book, is a mixture of published work and new pieces, some of which are reportedly AI-generated. She seems exhilarated to have space to play: the collection features not only prose, but also Web 2.0 drawings, trigger warnings, footnotes, stories within stories, lists of Google searches and line graphs. One of the longest stories, ‘Z Was for Zoomer’, is a series of paragraphs arranged under alphabetically organised keywords of the kind found in a very online dictionary: ‘cringe’, ‘doomer’, ‘ketamine’. If nothing else, Levy is having a lot of fun trying out a series of forms and discarding them again in a way that is designed to mimic how people stream vast quantities of content into their brains on a daily basis. My First Book is self-referential, unhinged and ultimately transfixing. 

The motivation of most of the characters – in so far as they can be called characters at all – is well summed up in ‘Little Lock’, an agonised slice of adolescence: ‘I want to be skinny. I want to be famous. I want to be loved.’ Levy’s narrators

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