Like most people, my daily interactions are conducted partly in person and partly online. I connect regularly with people over e-mail, texts, blogs and social media--and some of these friends are people I've never met "IRL" (in real life). It was with this backdrop that I conceived of my novel Five Days Left (Putnam, September 9), in which the two main characters view each other as friends even though, as fellow members of an anonymous Internet parenting forum, they've never met and don't know each other's real names.
I'm intrigued by the increasing pervasiveness of the Internet in our relationships, and fascinated by the idea that some people find it easier to share secrets with people they know only through online usernames than with those they actually live with. And I'm certainly not alone in finding cyberspace to be an interesting framework for fictional relationships. Here are eight novels in which the Internet plays a fairly significant role:
Juliet, Naked - Nick Hornby
(British) Annie posts a review online criticizing an album put out by her boyfriend Duncan's favorite singer/songwriter, (American) Tucker Crowe, who walked away from fame years earlier and has been a recluse ever since. Annie's criticism of the album leads to the end of her relationship with Duncan, but it also leads to something else. Tucker, breaking a 20-year silence, e-mails Annie to say he agrees with her. Annie e-mails back, and an online flirtation ensues.
Attachments - Rainbow Rowell
Rainbow Rowell's debut novel is about Lincoln, whose job is to monitor the e-mails of his fellow employees to ensure they aren't breaking their employer's usage guidelines. But when Lincoln stumbles upon policy-violating e-mail exchanges between fellow employees Jennifer and Beth, he decides not to report them as he's supposed to do, and instead, he keeps quiet--and keeps reading.
Wife 22 - Melanie Gideon
Middle-aged wife and mother Alice Buckle is dissatisfied with her life. When she receives a solicitation to join an online study about marriage, she signs up. Assigned the title of "Wife 22," she spends ages thinking up sincere answers to the questions "Researcher 101" e-mails to her. Over time, their communication morphs from clinical to conversational and ultimately, Alice's participation in the online study leads to life-changing revelations.
Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart
Shteyngart presents a futuristic look at a digitized America where people rarely speak to each other, no one reads "book books" anymore, and people communicate using handheld devices called aparats. Everyone is constantly being rated for attractiveness, financial status and other attributes on a single social networking site called GlobalTeen. Lennie, aging and unattractive, has a one-night-stand with Eunice, and begins to romanticize the experience in his head. Meanwhile, over GlobalTeen, Eunice describes the hook-up to her friends in far different terms.
Richard Yates - Tao Lin
Much of the illicit boyfriend-girlfriend relationship (she's 16, he's 22) in this controversial and quirky story takes place over Google chat. Lin's detached writing style is thought by some to be an intentional reflection of how the banality and lack of emotion in people's online status updates can slowly bleed into the way we communicate in person. The book itself takes less time to read than its (often hilarious and polemic) reviews on Goodreads.
eloves me, eloves me not - L.A. Johanneson
In this debut novel, Kayte is a late-thirties woman who has everything she wanted--great career, interesting friends--except someone to come home to. After disastrous results in the conventional dating scene, she lets a friend talk her into trying Internet dating. A contemporary romantic comedy, the book follows Katye as she navigates the world of online dating in search of Mr. Right.
Financial Lives of the Poets - Jess Walter
Matt quits his job as a reporter to start a financial poetry website. The site goes nowhere, and now Matt is facing a balloon payment on his mortgage that he can't pay. He tries to hide this information from his wife Lisa, whose phase of obsessive eBay purchases (which now fill part of their garage) didn't help the family's bottom line. Matt comes up with an ill-advised means of avoiding foreclosure and keeping his boys in private school while Lisa, he believes, is about to embark on an affair with an old high school boyfriend she connected with on Facebook. The unfaithful clicking of Lisa's computer keys are an ever-present background noise as Matt attempts to salvage his financial situation and his marriage.
Blue-eyed Boy - Joanne Harris
Most of this thriller is told through posts to a website called badguysrock. The site was created by blueeyedboy, the online name of Benjamin, a man in his forties who lives with his mother and is still suffering the effects of a dysfunctional childhood. Benjamin knows some of the site members in real life, including "Albertine" who, like blueeyedboy, presents an online persona that doesn't accurately reflect who she really is.