“Book Review: People I’ve Met from the Internet”
Reviewed by Liam Anthony
A compulsive, nuanced, and intelligent book that documents just how much the internet has defined—as well as redefined—our relationships.
People I’ve Met from the Internet by writer and educator Stephen van Dyck is indeed an unconventional memoir. It captures all the people the author has met thanks to the advent of chat rooms, websites, and subsequently social media platforms. The writer successfully tells his own coming of age story whilst shining light on how the internet has transformed how we meet people.
The memoir begins with a graph of all the people the writer has met from the internet. It is presented objectively, with not only the person’s online name, age and location but with a recording of what type of sexual activity they partook in. Don’t worry, readers, it comes with a key, so we know exactly what happened. It isn’t difficult to understand that “K” means kiss and so on.
From the beginning, readers are under the control of a writer who knows how to entertain. He is observant and witty reminding me of David Sedaris at times. However, what is liberating as a reader, is how uninhibited he is. It isn’t a book for the sexually fainthearted. Everything is documented, from the unmentionable of what could happen during anal sex, to weird and wonderful sexual fetishes and even genital warts, which he manages to portray with humor and erasure of judgment. Van Dyck isn’t afraid to give us the good, the bad, and the ugly; just expect the Eurythmics and Shirley Manson to be in the equation too.
Readers will be appreciative of this angle. A book which champions the queer experience, a book which provides a voice for the sexual experiences that most of us never see or read about, yet still exist. “Later, we were naked on the couch, and Kyle put his fingers up my butt. Kyle’s butt had a weird shape as if a large part of it had been removed.” The writer has trust with the reader, a shared visceral experience where we are almost sharing a drink with him as he unpacks these experiences with us. Like a loyal friend, we listen attentively and want to know his truth.
For many readers, those who are over thirty, the book is also a love letter to life before the advent of social media. The author references chat rooms, MySpace, and dial-up internet. The struggles of having to occupy a phone line whilst you used the internet and the days of downloading music from Napster and Limewire. For me, I particularly loved how these references provided such necessary punctuation to the story.
In addition to these references, away from the sexual archives, the writer presents the reader with a personal landscape of his own America. There is something romantic in how he paints a geographical tribute to parking lots, nightclubs, restaurants, and even malls.
It wouldn’t be a memoir if there wasn’t a reference to the writer’s parents. Like most of us, the author speaks of his parents with both of rolling of the eyes and a slice of compassion. Both of his parents have the spotlight at many times in the book. Without giving too much away, his mother’s reaction to his sexuality is one to look out for. In fact, her reaction to his revelation that he wants to become a poet is also a highlight not to be missed.
People I’ve Met from the Internet will be a touchstone for many. A talisman almost, or something to have by your bedside table after another confusing or disappointing date. It is an entertaining and compulsive read thanks to the author’s short staccato revelations and the originality of his stories. Resonating on many levels, it is a book that will leave you in stitches of laughter and will probably have you creating a playlist of Annie Lennox, Tori Amos, and Garbage.
Publisher: Ricochet Editions
Paperback: 155 pages
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