Dad jokes are simultaneously beloved and maligned, deeply ingrained in the intimacies of family life and yet universal and public enough to have a hashtag. There’s a specific tone and interpersonal dynamic that converge to make a joke a dad joke—and the recent ubiquity of dad jokes might even reveal something about the states of modern fatherhood and humor.
These sorts of daily calculations, each shaded with the possibility of a frightening outcome — a hospital visit, or even death — are the norm for Trece and the estimated 15 million Americans stricken with severe food allergies. Just as normal is the need to convince others that soy or milk or oysters, harmless to most, could have lethal consequences for them. Because even as the rate of such allergies is rising, prompting sweeping changes in the way Americans eat, tell someone that you have a food allergy, and there’s a good chance they’ll roll their eyes in disbelief.
That’s why Trece wears an epinephrine pen in a holster strapped to her ankle. It feels like armor, protection against all the possible outcomes — and also against the skeptics.
On the face of it, “Your Duck Is My Duck” could be regarded as a politically mild book for Eisenberg. The world intrudes only at the margins — tumult is hinted at in unnamed countries, glimpses of unspecified migrants. But these are stories of painful awakenings and refusals of innocence. This book offers no palliatives to its characters or to its readers — no plan of action. But it is a compass.
In its portrayal of a young man whose inability to overcome his emotional memories forces him to live in a coarsely compromised present, the novel queries our impulse to neutralize trauma, and explores the processes the brain carries out of its own accord: rewriting and obscuring certain memories, while zealously defending others from reinterpretation.
Once you understand this, how can you not ask yourself if it makes any sense to sacrifice individuals in order to protect the sanctity of the rights of the individual from an enemy who holds them in contempt? Is it possible to get through any war, any job, any life, no matter how small, with a clean conscience? Transcription suggests not. Even the simple act of writing down someone else’s words has consequences, and leaves traces whose influence no one can foretell.
All novels are spy novels, Ian McEwan once observed, and it’s a reasonable claim: Fiction nearly always relies on a clever observer to pry inside the minds and lives of its characters, to lay bare for the reader their deep motivations and intimate secrets. No wonder spies, like detectives, seem inherently literary figures, whether they’re real, invented or — as with the spies in Kate Atkinson’s intriguing new novel — a bit of both.
The publication of Williams’s book is timely. Since reports surfaced of Russian interference in the 2016 election, a flurry of academic work has emerged flagging the potential for the advertising machines of Big Tech to be “misused” or “abused” to harm the democratic process. Their tools of persuasion, these reports warned, could be hijacked for political influence.
But our fear that the advertising machines of Big Tech might be “hijacked” by bad political actors distracts us from the fact that these tools are already dangerous when used exactly as intended: to shape our inner life at the whim of advertisers and corporations.