A loose, allusive, and sometimes, well, strange reimagining of Albert Camus’ The Stranger.
“Aujourd’hui, maman est morte,” begins that source novel: today, mother died. Seidlinger’s debut begins with a kind of refractive shrug: “Someone died, I don’t know.” He goes on: someone died, apparently, and here’s the phone note to that effect—but more, here are the comments and likes on that most ubiquitous of social media, by which Meurks measures out his life in the moral equivalent of coffee spoons. “Death and coping with death: The Downer Story of the Year,” he posts, to which the resonant reply comes, “Fuck you Meurks.” Well, as our narrator sighs, there are a lot of trolls out there. Meurks—think Meursault—has more of a life online than Zachary Weinham does in real life. “I am plain looking and even plainer in personality,” Zachary admits, tethered to his phone, avoiding eye contact, always girding up for another crummy day working retail at the mall. So how is it that he gets caught up in a strange plot that involves a shadowy figure named Christopher Rios and ends in death and jail? Here, Seidlinger’s story shifts from a beach in Algeria to the dank basement world of Fight Club, with fuzzy realities and fuzzier memories. An oldster might grumble that Zack and company represent the worst of the millennials, good at whining and not much else, but Zack’s elders aren’t any better (“I guess it was partially my fault,” his dad labors to express). In the end, the story, though obviously derivative, carves its own path, and Seidlinger delivers a thoughtful reflection on existential ennui and the dehumanization wrought by the technology to which we’re enslaved—or, as Zachary quietly notes, “Without my phone, time took on its own shape.”
“For all I have known, and will know, this is adaptation.” A smart adaptation indeed of a hallowed classic, repositioning it for a grimmer world three-quarters of a century on.