Brittany Menjivar’s Parasocialite: Taking “It” Instead of “Making It”

Book Review by Emily K. Sipiora

Brittany Menjivar’s literary debut, Parasocialite, is a definitive portrait of a post alt-lit cultural landscape that challenge’s the genre’s effete self-interest. Parasocialite details the shrewdness of online womanhood, reinventing alt lit’s approach to interpersonal relationships through creating a female narrative of alienation in a world controlled by men. Menjivar’s first prose piece, “Boring Night”, is anchored in the early 2010s (alt lit’s Renaissance period) through its extensive references to deadmau5. It revolves around the novelty of first kisses, obtained through the then-new app Tinder. Like the characters in Tao Lin’s Richard Yates, Menjivar’s protagonist places herself in relationships with skewed dynamics of power. Unlike the male and young female dynamic perpetuated by alt lit, Menjivar’s character sets out with the goal of completing her first kiss at any cost. In her Tinder bio, the protagonist refers to herself as “a sexy alien [that] just dropped down to earth”, attracting the attention of many strange men on the app. These men use euphemisms such as “other things” to allude to the possibility of corrupting the protagonist, as it is evident that she is sexually inexperienced. Menjivar subverts this corruptive trajectory by rejecting the cat-and-mouse game initiated by the Tinder men. She asserts her utter disinterest in participating in foreplay revolving around her “pure” nature. “I don’t want to be a dirty girl,” she states: “I want to be myself” (8).

The protagonist’s matter-of-fact demeanor is akin to Tao Lin’s prose and its flat affect, but Menjivar challenges the characteristic chauvinism of alt lit through a distinctly apathetic female lens. When Menjivar’s protagonist asserts that she “wants to be [herself],” she is rejecting the hot young starlet persona perpetuated by vacuous Los Angeles Apparel billboards at 101 exits. The archetype of these young starlets was previously exploited by canonical alt lit figures such as Stephen Tully Dierks, but are now reviving the genre with their new perspective. Menjivar’s work plays in the sandbox of alt lit canon, potentially creating boring comparisons to the coquettish Marie Calloway because of Menjivar’s delineation of her various personal relationships. Menjivar’s prose lacks the autism of Lin and Calloway, instead leaning into the “sincerity” leveraged in alt lit’s connection to the larger new sincerity genre.

Menjivar is a key figure in Los Angeles’ alt lit revival, running the reading series Car Crash Collective with fellow starlet Erin Satterthwaite. Car Crash is in the same circle as Sammy Loren’s Casual Encountersz’, billed as “readings of rage and romance”. This reinvention of alt lit undoes the genre’s foundational connection to Brooklyn, instead creating new landmarks in the Echo Park bookstore Stories Books & Café and the Highland Park neighborhood. The Los Angeles movement is distinct from the evolution of alt lit in Brooklyn. On the west coast, alt lit changed from men writing about women and drugs to women writing about their dissatisfaction with and disconnection from the zeitgeist. Menjivar’s Parasocialite is hyperaware of its predecessors in the genre, intentionally subverting its chauvinism through its innately female prose. Menjivar’s protagonists move from terrible men to worse men with clout, all through the author’s characteristic factual narrative explaining that her characters do so in order to preserve their personal power.  

In “Hollywood Baby”, Menjivar writes that “better men want to exploit [her] now” (109). This concept of a higher caliber man is seen in “A Trick for Sophie”, in which the protagonist enters a relationship with a Las Vegas magician. As the relationship continues, she slowly begins to realize the magician has an all-consuming fear of death. This fear is conceptualized in his relationship with a young cancer patient that attracts the protagonist’s dry ire. She becomes bored, attempting to recapture the magician’s interest through increasingly rough sex. In turn, the magician’s fear surfaces in coitus, and he admits that he cannot bear to engage in pain play because it reminded him of mortality:

“I rammed myself into him again and again, fearing the death that was stasis. “Stop,” he told me. I obeyed. Then I asked him if I had hurt him… my roughness had reminded him of his capacity to be hurt… this was the same man who had broken chains and lifted cars” (121).

At the end of the piece, Menjivar’s character apathetically loiters in a church. She prays to God and admits that there’s no point in concealing her growing disgust towards the magician as her contempt is already deific record. The story ends with her relief at the Make-A-Wish child’s death, to which she opines: “I always got what I wanted, one way or another” (122). Parasocialite asks if it is possible to “make it” when everyone else has already “made it”. The old scions of alt lit – Tao Lin, Marie Calloway, Meghan Boyle, et. al – have already “made it”, but Menjivar eschews their authority over the genre and completely reinvents alt lit in her own image. Her protagonists and poetry embody a fierce individuality and power that does not change itself to attain “it”. Instead, Menjivar takes “it” with a transgressive force.

Parasocialite is now available through Dream Boy Book Club