The Strangest by Michael Seidlinger
Seidlinger’s latest book “The Strangest” is an ode to Albert Camus’s “The
Stranger” updated for the digital age. His continued interest in the digital
persona versus real persona (first explored in his first book “In Great
Company”) bares great fruit throughout the entirety of the book. “The Strangest” might be the first
masterpiece about the simultaneous distance and narcissism that social media so
readily promotes. Social awkwardness can be fully discarded online and thus the
online at times becomes a better representation of the real self than the
actual real self. Whether or not this is
a good or bad thing depends on the particular individual. Due to social
pressures which have yet to catch up with the online, the online world seems to
be a void of sorts, not quite able to be fully defined.
lack of definition is what appeals to Zachary Weinham, the protagonist of the
story. Rather than talk to anyone actually around him, Zachary Weinham retreats
into a world where he understands the rules of conduct. His daily life is
routine because by keeping the routine he can devote all of his energy to his
online presence. So uncomfortable is he that he refuses to go onto the subway,
opting instead to simply walk, further avoiding anyone in particular. For those
few individuals that do reach out to him, a very small group of actual friends,
he barely acknowledges them. They talk and he replies with the most cursory of
answers, one word answers mostly. Unable to connect to the world around him he
connects to others as lonely as himself.
this routine changes his life is torn asunder. Forced to confront the utter
lack of meaning in his life he contemplates his place within society. His
refusal to adhere to social norms makes him a social outcast, one shunned by
the normal individuals around him. This questioning of society is what makes
his online social persona so potent. Unfortunately the online world’s addicting
qualities, the need to constantly interact with things most would ignore, makes
it impossible for him to fully examine his life choices. Others choose to make
those choices for him with rather ill consequences. Anytime spent away from his
beloved online presence gives him extreme anxiety as he wishes to belong, even
if in a peculiar way.
clear path for Zachary Weinham makes it particularly fascinating. Perhaps the
most interesting thing about Zachary Weinham’s life is the sheer drudgery, the
over-educated being under-challenged, whether that is a conscious choice on the
character’s part or something simply thrust upon him. Additionally it is left
unclear whether Zachary Weinham had been this way growing up or if the online
persona gradually consumed him, leaving nothing in its wake.
there are no clear answers. Michael Seidlinger is a bit too clever for that.
Left open ended, the book ruminates about the control that relatively trivial
things in a life can have over a person. Do heavy internet usage, the creation
of personas, and other similar actions take over a life, forever changing it?
Is this the most beneficial usage of time, one that dissociates a person from
their surroundings? Can a fictitious online persona become the real person with
the real person as a mere shell, going through the motions?
these questions have neat tidy answers and Michael Seidlinger’s “The Strangest”
focuses on them, for they will only become more and more potent with the
passage of time.