Note: this book is pretty rough. I felt like someone had driven a truck through my brain, in a bad way, after reading it in one sitting. It contains mentions of suicide, self-harm, sexual violence, gore and so on. The review to follow reflects that while trying to stay as polite as possible, but do consider not reading if you think that it might be particularly upsetting to you.
B. R. Yeager’s Amygdalatropolis starts with the casual consumption of hell; a disinterested, desensitized consumption of hyper-violent, authentic-seeming media. The protagonist lives at home with his parents, a shut in who shuts himself away in his room, experiencing the world only through 4chan style message boards.
The book is told through the use of message board posts, traditional prose narrative, chatrooms, and occasional slips of authorial intervention — creatively dappled little Goya paintings of an online hell and it’s consumption of a person.
Because of the nature of the message board posts all providing the user the same name — /1404er/ — it’s difficult to assess the messages that are from the protagonist. Is he the one asking for snuff porn, or the moralising voice, or the pseudo-philosophical voice, or the one still learning, or the one asking how to drug a drink without breaking the seal of the bottle?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
/1404er/ is a composite identity, having emptied himself out into the void of the internet subculture of hate — that is what washes back to fill his space. He arranges the world so he needn’t go outside. His sexual obsessions with death, gore and violence don’t provide him any waking gratification. These things, for a normal person, would be brushing against his fear of touch. But for /1404er/ this contributes to the perpetual motion engine that locks him away.
As a reader we have to hold on to the reality happening around the protagonist, until those anchors cease to exist, and he is untethered. Throughout he is simply a vessel for the hyper-violent media to pour into and through.
The collective identity that manifests into the physical is one that see nobility in some great shared work — in the accumulated effort of, for example, “doxxing” someone and pushing them to suicide. In a in a chat room, it seems to by the physical /1404er/ we are following who pushes the suicidal person to get some knives from the kitchen: “u dont have 2 do ne thing w/ them”.
I have rarely wanted a protagonist to come to a horrible end so quickly. In truth he’s already at a horrible end from the start. He’s a teenager, we observe his mother leaving a 16th birthday cake outside his door, as she does with his meals, his deliveries. The mother comes to the door regularly to beg or parlay. His sharp tongue, and calming emails with articles about Hikikomori or adolescent psychology allow him to get away with it. There is a frustrating softness in the family around the boy, he has a remote IT job provided by his aunt, and his father is absent from parenting and his mother is always behind the door — except for one incident…
Angela Nagle writes about such communities in Kill All Normies, her study of the alt-right in America, and identifies any number of similarities between that reality and /1404er/, but principally there is a cornerstone idea of amorality and that to have a feeling is somehow losing the game. Nothing can be shocking, even though the purpose of these communities to push one another towards shock. Caring about something is also a loss, so a solipsistic swirl is developed that pulls the actors in any of these dramas, real or otherwise.
Like a lot of the nasty side of internet culture we’ve seen spill out into real life recently, /1404er/ typifies a terrible result of removing context from everything. This removal of context places it close to Blake Butler’s SKYSAW, with its location/body/object merging and strange detachment. The violence of the book reminds me more of something like The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things by JT LeRoy, the violence and power exchanges and voyeurism — visceral — if still detached.
Later, when he is finally alone, he is haunted to move about the house. There is some compulsion in him to exercise the ghosts through confrontation, as much as he could manage. He explores a game on his father’s computer, where the character is meant to farm, but is unable to because of the missing aspects, the strange unreal of it. Each task of interaction offers him the message: “nothing you do will have any effect on the game.” The haunting is pacified by mundane, childish thoughts, focusing on the wallpaper in his mother’s bedroom, or what he called his father’s dust — these are sensory memories (sight and smell) that linger with him from when he was in some way human, when he was a child. It’s hard to call these moments sad, but they are pathetic.
The online world is one where we have reveal humanity to prove veracity — while at the same time using the anonymity as a form of protection. The posts in the novel show this, to be real you have to show a weakness, or accept the obscurity of a contextless existence. /1404er/ accepts the latter.
You can buy B. R. Yeager’s Amygdalatropolis here.
To cleanse the palate a little, enjoy this special valentines day story by Elytron Fass, The Love Cults of Laodicea.
and then, also, Au Revoir Simone — Take Me As I Am.
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own, written by @CJEggett who has a new website, let him know about any typos you spot, anywhere at all. As you may have seen, I recently spent some time with a friend being scanned in 3D and rendered. Enjoy my 3D lumps. Sometimes I don’t want to let go of my bag too. I’ve just realised I didn’t post last week’s very good newsletter on medium, which is why you should tell your weirdo friends on the message board to sign up here instead. It was tough to write this one, the book was compelling to read, but simply so disgusting and deranged and real feeling that it made me feel absolutely filthy inside my skull.