Unlikely Friendship News Stories in No One Is Talking About This
In Part One of Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This, the narrator travels the world attending speaking gigs with her newfound internet stardom. The vignettes the book consists of exist in her real life, “the portal,” and everywhere in between. A great deal of the stories alluded to in these short fragments seem to have grounds in reality and events that actually happened in our world. Somewhere along this press tour, the narrator claims “The portal’s favorite stories, now, were about interracial friends who met playing online Scrabble and eventually invited each other to Thanksgiving dinner” (Lockwood 2021). Here, the narrator appears to be referencing two news stories that went viral in the winter of 2017. In one, an older white woman and young Black man struck up a friendship playing Words With Friends, an online word game. In the other, an older white woman mistakenly texted a young Black man details about her Thanksgiving plans, after which the two actually ended up having Thanksgiving dinner together and developed a friendship. The narrator claiming these are “the portal’s favorite stories now” is underscored by these real stories making the news only weeks apart. The way in which she conflates the stories also highlights their apparent abundance, as one is not really distinguishable from the other.
The narrator emphasizes the differences between the people who find themselves in these new friendships, juxtaposing their predominant characteristics. She says one of them must be “old enough to have been on the wrong side of the civil rights movement” and one of them must be “young enough that their face was like a fresh lightbulb” (Lockwood 2021). They overcome these differences, however, and form a beautiful and lasting connection. The news stories write about the real life events in a way that is extremely reflective of the narrator’s description. They highlight the unlikelihood of these friendships and vastly different backgrounds from which the people come. Through much of the book to this point, the narrator has dwelled on the combative and aggressive nature of many interactions within the portal. She has discussed at length her vehement disagreement with many of the things she reads and her desire to argue with the people who post them. She also knows that the portal is conducive to factioning and tribe-forming. Perhaps this is why she says they “reveled in these stories, which were not untrue.” Seeing that two people who are such an unlikely duo can form a lasting bond seems certain to suggest that people can overcome the division sown or exacerbated by the portal. That is clearly what the narrative surrounding the real news stories suggests propelled the public interest in them. 2017 was a year of particular divide for many Americans, as it followed the highly contentious 2016 election. These divisions were certainly evident online. One of the older women in one of the stories was quoted saying “‘We’re living in a country divided by fear of the other…This story has two unlikely people becoming friends. It’s very beautiful and hopeful’” (Klein 2017), highlighting the reason why people were so enamored with these stories.
The narrator in the book goes on to say, however, that “there was some untruth in the degree to which they comforted us” (Lockwood 2021). The stories, both in the real news and in the portal, would not become so sensational if they were not rare occurrences. People likely take comfort in them because they present the possibility of actually reaching across the aisle and finding connections where it may seem impossible. They suggest people are not so terrible as to not be able to still show kindness and love towards one another. The narrator is illustrating that these would not become the portal’s “favorite stories” if people were not desperate to see this to be the truth. It is no coincidence that these real stories went viral during a particularly divisive time on social media. They should not bring comfort, for the simple fact that they are sensational and we look to them for comfort at all.
Klein, Allison. 2017a. “A Rapper and an 81-Year-Old Woman just Met in Person After Bonding Over Words with Friends for More than a Year.” The Washington Post, Dec 4,. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/12/04/a-rapper-and-retiree-bonded-over-words-with-friends-after-more-than-a-year-they-met-in-real-life/.
Klein, Allison. 2017b. “This Grandma Mistakenly Texted a Stranger Inviting Him for Thanksgiving. Now the Teen is a Regular at Her Table.” The Washington Post, Nov 27,. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/11/27/this-grandma-mistakenly-texted-a-stranger-inviting-him-for-thanksgiving-now-the-teen-is-a-regular-at-her-table/.
Lockwood, Patricia. 2021. No One is Talking about This. New York: Riverhead Books.