Thursday, July 16, 2015

All This Life

All This Life by Joshua Mohr
Soft Skull Press: 7/14/15
eBook review copy, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781593766030

All This Life by Joshua Mohr is exceptionally thoughtful, and a very highly recommended novel about our current information super highway. In All This Life Mohr takes our over exposed, interconnected lives, a tragic event, and ties together seven very different people.

The novel opens with an unnamed man pondering: "There’s one gigantic cause that no one talks about and it’s the foundation of my equation, my E = mc despaired: Human sadness is what’s heating up the earth. We are so somber, Albert, our lives are squared by despair and thus we all emit such a sad heat that our planet will torch unless we get it under control."

Then we are introduced to Paul and Jake, his son. They are driving over the Golden Gate Bridge when Jake sees a marching band. Jake likes "capturing real human life, snatching seconds away from those who don’t suspect an audience." As he films them with his phone, he captures a horrific event that leaves most of the band dead. After Jake posts his video of the event on youtube, the only video that captured the whole event from start to finish, it goes viral.

Noah, a man who lost his sister that day on the bridge has seen Jake's film online and can't believe someone would post that. He is in a world of pain and grief over his loss.

In Traurig, a small town in Nevada about an hour from Reno, Sara has just learned that her boyfriend has posted a sex tape of them online. Her cell phone is vibrating and text messages are flying. She's lost her job and it seems everyone knows about her indiscreet as the video goes viral. She turns to Rodney, an old friend who struggles to speak after an accident, and they leave together to find Rodney's mom, Kathleen (Kat), a caricaturist who lives in San Francisco. Kat left after his accident and hasn't contacted him since. She's sober now, though, and wants to reach out.

Sara ponders, "If there was a customer service center that regulated the whole information super highway she would have dialed it immediately. But it’s the wild west. Utter anarchy. No one’s really in charge, so long as you’re not trying to coerce a kid into bed or buying weapons." This is, of course, why these two videos exist online. Social media amplifies the interconnectedness of these lives. Sara watches Jake's video and he watches the one with her in it.

All these flawed and wounded characters will end up converging in a startling and dramatic conclusion. If all this makes it seem that Mohr's novel is very somber and gloomy, it isn't. There are moments of humor and there is a sense of hope at the end. 

The focus on social media and how it is used and defines people today is clearly demonstrated by Paul and Jake.

Paul, who has to "basically police his co workers, or they’ll fiddle around on Facebook all day" is concerned for his son and for the whole generation because of the way they publicize everything - "these technologies that make it seem like a good idea to share shrapnel from your life, meaningless slivers of each day." He "examines the dangerous intersection of reality and the imaginary, where coding and technology seek to highlight and augment our already flawed human connections."

Jake, though, espouses the view of his generation. He didn’t do anything wrong when posting the video of the band. "This is what people do. This is how the world works. This is why we’re smarter now: We share everything with everyone, have access to each sight and sound. We are informed and connected! If they stop living in the past, they’d plug into this broadcasting consciousness, synapses firing all over the globe." "Content is Jake’s purpose. It is everybody’s purpose. And each single frame uploaded is a public service."

After finishing All This Life, I put everything Joshua Mohr has written on my wish list. The writing was exceptional. The development of the characters, even when working with so many, is incredible. The underlying message is timely. With all our connections, have we lost sight of the value of the personal, face to face, connections? Do we propose that our social media connections are truly personal connections? Is social media truly reflecting our reality, our lives? Do we need to share everything? Is content really our purpose?

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Soft Skull Press for review purposes.

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