Matt Monahan is writing a terrible novel. It might be the best thing I’ve read all year.
Monahan recently “disappeared into the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest” to find himself and finish a “forthcoming work of non-fiction” titled War & Porn.
Since his return to civilization, Monahan has been publishing “field notes” from his book. The excerpts from War & Porn have headlines like “Thoughts On Blowjobs & Perception” and “Confessions of Love, Death, & Instagram.” Monahan has a thing for bad titles and ampersands.
“This is not a how-to book,” Monahan informs people signing up for email updates on his novel. “This isn’t a how-not-to book. This is simply a book—mostly about my experiences with the highs and lows of social media.”
You see, Monahan is tech bro who lucked into Stanford and then rode the Facebook wave into enough cash to become one of Silicon Valley’s burgeoning class of social media pioneers who advise and invest in other companies. You know, the sort of fellows who use words like “growth-hacking” and “thought-leader.”
Things were going pretty well until one of Monahan’s friends uploaded a video to Facebook of him stumble-drunk and naked at a tech conference of fellow tech bros in India. Unfortunately, this occurred at the same time he was trying to sell his start-up venture.
Monahan now purportedly lives a faux-bohemian lifestyle, flitting from scene to scene burdened by nothing but his wealth, a jeep, and a constantly updated Instagram account. He’s also a painter (abstract expressionism), and what better way to cement that artsy cred than get a novel under one’s belt? And what better way to write a novel than to escape back to nature?
The solitude of the woods has given the world some of its literary classics, such as Thoreau’s Walden and the poetry of Hanshan. I regret to say Monahan’s contributions will not be counted among them. His prose is vulgar, tone-deaf, and elicits rage across an impressive spectrum of humanity. Here are some select sentences that Monahan’s forest retreat produced:
“James Franco isn’t much different than me,” Monahan concludes after the Renaissance man sits down in an adjacent bathroom stall at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont. “We are both artists, writers, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, scholars.”
“I handed the artist my Black American Express, winked, and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
“Truth is, I probably shouldn’t have even got accepted into Stanford.”
“I’ve been on the apprentice-for-cool-people kick lately. Working with a graffiti artist in Berlin, helping out a butcher gut some lamb, learning how to plow fields with organic farmers — that kind of stuff. It’s been very enlightening.”
“If you follow me on Instagram, you know I am on a sailboat right now.”
There are more—so many more—just like those. Monahan goes to great lengths to inform readers of how wealthy he is, how fabulous his life is, how sexy and smart his friends are, and how he has mind-blowing sex with models.
For example, Monahan begins one story, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Homeless,” with his typical listing of status markers, followed by an obtuse statement:
“I’ve lived in the ultra luxurious San Francisco Mint building next to a founder of Twitter. Sarah Jessica Parker was my next-door neighbor in the West Village. We smiled at each other on occasion. My studio-gallery-restaurant-office-loft on Abbot Kinney was the place to be last spring. Summers at the Montauk house were the best. I loved living in an airstream amongst the cliffs above Malibu. But tonight, I am homeless. I am not worried — I’ve got something to share…”
What Monahan has to share is the moment of satori when he realized he could he could live his life all the more fully if he wasn’t burdened with homes (yes, plural) or lots of possessions. The common usage of “homeless” implies that one doesn’t have the means to secure permanent shelter, but I’m sure it sounds very cool when Monahan tells people he’s “homeless.”
Anyway, the general arc of Monahan’s stories revolve around how he now leverages what he calls “social capital” to get invited to cool events and free meals, find couches to crash on, and bed girls.
“Every dollar spent on a fun meal or a vacation with friends or a new cultural experience is another story you get to use as social collateral to strengthen the relationships with people around you,” Monahan writes. “Entertaining people is indispensable. Stories are the new currency.”
Most people just call this “having friends.”
So Monahan is a Gatsby without a Daisy or a past to be borne back ceaselessly into. Instead, he drifts about in an ever-expanding present full of vapid platitudes and conspicuous consumption. In this sense, his stories capture the social media-driven life quite well.
Maybe I’m being a bit hard on the old sport, but all I have to go on is the depiction of himself he presents. I’m willing to entertain the possibility he is a world-class satirist and performance artist in the midst of his magnum opus. Perhaps a Marxist propagandist.
But either intentionally or unintentionally, Monahan is creating what could be a classic in the genre of hate-reads.
A hate-read is not the same as what G.K. Chesterton once described as a “good bad book.” A good bad book is pleasurable to read, despite its literary deficiencies. No, a hate-read is a bad bad book that triggers strong electrical activity in the deep lizard part of the reader’s brain responsible for the urge to hurl heavy rocks at china cabinets. It is amusing because of its faults and enraging because of its pretensions. The reader is constantly torn between chucking the book and flipping the page to feast on new affronts to good taste.
Americans in general have always been less spiteful toward the wealthy than our European counterparts, yet there’s something gauche about Monahan’s writing that makes even me—a committed libertarian—want to run to the barricades, occupy the parks, hoist the black flag, etc. I’ve shared his work with progressive and conservative friends, and it seems to work its magic equally on both.
Monahan seems to be aware of this. He admits that the stories and photos he shares are curated to make his life seem as cool as possible, because that’s what people do with social media. He writes with good humor about having his penis posted on Gawker for all the Internet to see. And he’s pretty open that most of his career has been based on manipulating his and others’ images. Beneath Monahan’s sub-par writing, there is an interesting story about how he’s used social networks and media.
For example, in one of his stories, Monahan describes how he buys up paintings by unknown artists, gives some of them to his rich friends and tells them the paintings are worth big bucks. The word of mouth (rich people love explaining their paintings to guests) actually raises the value of the artwork. Then Monahan anonymously places more of the artist’s work in auctions, where they sell for well-above list price. This is kind of brilliant.
In the end, Monahan knows that haters gonna hate:
Some of you will be able to relate to my stories. Some of you will find them entertaining. Maybe you’ll get tingles when I describe the month I spent in Paris blowing all of my money on a mini-retirement a few years ago and hearing about how I had to start all over again. You might even get a kick out of me describing building a company, getting it ready to be acquired, and then having my life totally turned upside down by social media. It was all necessitated by and perpetuated through social media. Some of you will hate me, I am sure of it. As they say, it’s always more fun attacking than defending. And if you get where you are going too fast, as I did, you’ll spend your whole life defending your path.
This profound passage is followed by an Instagram photo of the side-view mirror of a Porsche zipping down the French countryside. The caption reads: “A month in Paris is much more fun in a rented 911 Turbo.”
I can’t wait to get a copy of War & Porn and hate-read it with all my friends.