Private Citizens Review

May 26, 2023
David Sunnyside

A sly, funny and devastating novel about four Stanford grads in the black hole of their mid-twenties.

Private Citizens is a wry, wise, and searching depiction of friendships under surveillance capitalism. Its omniscient narrator has a modern-day bullshit detector cranked to max, as it deftly dissects the self-deluding pretensions of its adolescent narrators: Linda, an artfully vapid Cool Girl who embarks on a spite-odyssey through San Francisco's coke parties; Will, whose tech-genius prowess allows him to map his girlfriend's face onto her body with terabytes of painstakingly spreadsheet-cataloged and tagged pornography; Henrik, a bipolar scientist who overthinks everything to the point of paralysis; and Cory, an intense leftist activist whose commitment to her politics translates into begrudging financial assistance from her wealthy conservative father.

In a world where everyone is constantly plugged in, the novel reveals how disconnected our digital lives can be from real-world concerns. But it is also a deeply human story of the ways in which our loose bonds of youth can turn into more traditional arcs of family.

Despite being billed as "Middlemarch for Millennials" (a claim Tulathimutte himself gets acid reflux when hearing), the book does not fall into facile caricature. It is a surprisingly empathetic portrait of an unforgiving age, with characters whose self-absorption, vanity, and entitlement are just as infuriating as the author's. Whether exposing Will's shamelessly hedonistic behavior or Linda's pathetic attempts to make Vanya happy, Private Citizens is a searing comedy of moral failings that ultimately ends with a wrenching dose of realism.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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