Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review: Sad Desk Salad by Jessica Grose

In this day and age of instant information, the internet, Facebook, and Twitter, there seems to be no such thing as privacy or discretion.  What we don't share about ourselves, others share for us and about us.  The wealth of information about people that is instantly available for anyone with a little technical expertise is truly staggering.  And we've developed a culture that feeds on this "news," feeling entitled to know everything we can, especially about the celebrities and public figures we love or loathe.  Prurience seems to be at an all time high for certain.  Worse yet, we don't care how this desire affects and even potentially destroys the lives of those we read or hear about.  Jessica Grose's new novel Sad Desk Salad focuses on the gossipy, exposed world that our extreme need to uncover the private lives of others has created.

Alex Lyons is a writer/blogger for celebrity gossip website Chick Habit.  She trolls the internet for information, writes a short bitchy article and sits back to watch the hits (the method by which her company measures her success) accumulate on her articles.  This is not what she envisioned she'd be doing with her life but she's gotten quite good at it, finding juicy tidbits and exposing them to a large and faceless audience day after day.  And then an anonymous tipster sends Alex a link to a video showing the college-aged daughter of a very conservative, smug "perfect mother," and rising politician doing cocaine.  This is the sort of story that would cement Alex's always precarious job and take down a fairly nasty politician but it could have many other repercussions, especially for a college girl who never asked to be in the limelight but was thrust there by her mother's political ambitions.

While Alex wrestles with her conscience about posting the private video, obsessing about the situation and these people plus her own guilt, she is unable to see the ways in which her own life and relationship with her boyfriend Pete is completely breaking down.  Her work is changing her as a person, and not for the better.  When she finds a blog devoted to attacking the Chick Habit writers and discovers that it saves most of its vitriol for her, she is horrified and alarmed even as the fall-out and attacks as a result of her decision to run the coke snorting video also ramp up.  Feeling attacked on all sides, Alex must face who she's become, what it has done to her important relationships, and how she can possibly make the changes that will bring her back to herself.

On the surface, this is a light and quick read but it certainly does contain important deeper themes and issues facing us in our instantaneous information, instant gratification, nothing off-limits age.  What is the new morality and ethics; is it still the same old morality and ethics just in a new medium?  Alex as a character is funny and snarky and delightfully neurotic.  Her life is both fast paced and isolated and that definitely rings true.  The secondary characters are fairly flat and one dimensional but since they exist mainly as screen names who interact with Alex in person only very rarely, this is perhaps fitting.  It is interesting to see the other side of the glut of celebrity news, that of the people who find the information and make it available to the rest of us.  If we feel slightly dirty for reading it, what must they feel as they ferret it out or expose it to a wider audience?  Set over a very short time, Alex's revelations come to her rather quickly and the ending is resolved just a bit too easily but this is well-written and fun and anyone who enjoys, guiltily or not, celebrity gossip will enjoy this inside look at the way in which that particular beast gets fed.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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