by Guillaume Morissette
Véhicule Press, 2014
1. Morissette’s second full-length is set in a hip neighborhood in Montreal. Characters drink cheap beer, ignore their parents, promote cinema.
2. As an American, the most striking cultural moment in this Canadian novel was when two of the characters discussed, without guilt, never having seen The Shawshank Redemption.
3. New Tab tells the story of roommates born on Craigslist—their complex negotiations with landlords, utility companies, each other.
4. The narrator Thomas, a writer in his 20s, sulks through a dayjob designing video games for palmheld devices. At night he sneaks beers into dance clubs and hosts house parties. He attends a Creative Writing Program where he befriends the hard-partying, socially uninhibited Shannon. He falls in love with Romy, a walking distressed sweatshirt. Recalling a breakup conversation with Romy to Shannon, Thomas admits: “it’s like we were talking about golf.”
5. While reading this novel I kept thinking of my mother: Girls grow up faster than boys do.
6. New Tab is a page-turner.
7. I read it on vacation. I also read other books. I kept swiping out of those books to get back to New Tab.
8. I read on beer-stained hammocks and undercrowded chicken buses. I read in a colorful doorway and at a taco bar where body-obsessed Australians were puking up cheladas. I wanted to read New Tab when I couldn’t digest soccer. Like on July 4th during a long lunch when it took me the whole meal to realize Germany was in brown and the French were in black.
9. Morissette has a considerable talent for dialogue, and by that I mean everyone is written the same way.
10. I was eager to read New Tab after reading Morissette’s first book, I Am My Own Betrayal. I remember being deeply moved by this thought in the poem “Vaster Emptiness Achieved”:
We write poetry, people hate us, do we really have to hate each other also?
11. New Tab’s Thomas would say: “I was deeply moved,” I thought.
12. New Tab is written in straightforward prose interrupted by impressionistic passages or jokes. Some of these passages are written by the crush who didn’t sign your yearbook. Reading this novel reminded me of reading Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights during a sleepless night as a writer in my 20s, sitting in a chair I knew I was going to sell.
13. Caleb Crain’s Necessary Errors is also a book about a writer in his 20s. Why did swiping into it make me feel like a veal calf being led to slaughter? Swiping into Adam Hochschild’s To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, a book about soldiers in their teens, made me feel like a never-cooped spring chicken.
14. Hipsters, unlike yuppies, are human triangles that know the gentleness of the hypotenuse.
15. Reading a book is like rowing a boat, and New Tab’s sentences are easy on the oars.
16. New Tab reminded me of afternoon naps through Colorado before taking over to drive through Kansas all night.
17. “Barrels. It’s always barrels. They’re in every single game. I have probably destroyed a million video game barrels in my life. Here’s the thing: Have you ever tried kicking down a barrel, in real life? They’re pretty much indestructible.”
18. We write poetry, people hate us, do we really have to hate each other also? Do you see Creative Writing Programs dribbling down the mouth of that line?
19. Philip Roth published his first novel in 1962. He was almost 29½ years old. Letting Go is about writers in their 20s. It takes place during the MFA era where you could pretend that since Flannery O’Connor attended an MFA program, you, too, could attend an MFA program and you, too, would emerge penning blinding metaphors about the sun.
The narrator of Letting Go, Gabe, nominates his writer-friend for a job teaching literature. Probably because Gabe wants to fuck his writer-friend’s midcentury wife. The college dean responds:
“‘That’s very considerate of you, Gabe, but you know the difficulty with creative writers.’
‘They’re apt to be a little too personal about literature.’
‘Most of them are without any real critical system. I’ve never really known a writer who finally understood writing.’
There was no sense, Gabe knew, in bringing up old Henry James; there was no sense in bringing up anything.”
20. Thomas in New Tab: “I thought about school, having peers who were five or six or seven years younger than me, how strange it felt to hear them say things like, ‘I was supposed to do this essay but then I ended up taking pictures of my leg.’”
21. “Constantly on the computer, constantly producing content, constantly going nowhere.”
22. The internet is a character in New Tab. The internet cannot be escaped. To even attempt escape is impossible. The internet must be eaten. The internet is what Paul, a writer in his 20s, swallows in Tao Lin’s Taipei:
“He drove cross the street to a Checkers drive-thru and bought two apple pies, which he ate with little to no pleasure, almost unconsciously, while distractedly considering how once a bite of it was in his mouth, then chewed once or twice, there seemed to be no choice, at that point, but to swallow.”
23. You guys? Is palmheld one word or two words? How much firmer can HD tits get? Who is the most imitated person in America? What does Kobe Bryant taking a selfie in front of the Great Wall of China in a print ad for Turkish Airlines mean for undisclosed settlements in sexual assault cases? At what point in their intellectual development did Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter begrudgingly accept that their clothier doesn’t RE2PECT labor laws?
24. While reading New Tab I remembered Tab soda and its popularity with the divorced housewives of the 1980s. While reading New Tab I became, for a time, what it calls a “coherent human being.” Because there is no hate in the novel. New Tab is hate-free. The best thing I can say about a book.
25. It wasn’t until I reached the end that I realized I’d been misinterpreting the title. I kept thinking “new tab” meant next tab, more tabs, more content, more the seven saddest days in 1993, more heroic journalism. But “new tab” doesn’t mean any of those things. It means no tab. It means blank page.
Stuart Ross is a writer living in Chicago. You can follow him on twitter.