Tim Duggan Books, July 5, 2016.
Professor Jeremy O’Keefe has just returned to New York after living and teaching in England for the last decade. He has been hired to work at NYU and is currently rekindling a relationship with his adult daughter and her husband. However, he lives a solitary life with few connections to the city of New York. He left for England shortly after 9/11 and in a way he feels like he abandoned his city when he should have stayed to express solidarity.
Questions of identity are tangled with ideas about homeland and patriotism for Jeremy, and the lengthy tangents that deal with these issues are full of triggers for our current world, such as terrorism and the surveillance state. Jeremy thinks he is beginning to forget things, such as emails he doesn’t remember sending, and it becomes such a problem that he even has medical tests done. There are no conclusive answers – until a mysterious box is delivered on his doorstep. The box contains endless pages of printouts, covering all of his online activity. Jeremy is being monitored, and he doesn’t know why – although the answer could lie in some questionable decisions he made while in England.
Jeremy has a fear of government surveillance, yet he had no trouble reporting on another man whom he feared – mostly because the other man was a Muslim. His decisions come back to haunt him in unexpected ways. The moral aspects of the novel start out subtle but soon become very obvious. Even though he has made some poor choices in the past, he doesn’t see them as transgressions because he is blinded by his own sense of entitlement. Jeremy thinks he is “no one” because he is not important enough to be watched, or so he thinks.
The voice of the narrator is very academic, white upper-class American – and we have come so far in the literary world that this voice almost feels fresh and original again. It is not a voice we are used to hearing in contemporary literature, but it still made Jeremy extremely unlikeable and unsympathetic for me. Because of his gender, race and class, he cannot imagine himself as a threat and he believes these characteristics protect him from the government. His entitled world view is frustrating to read.
This novel does pose intriguing and important questions about the current surveillance state, and in the end Jeremy does advocate privacy over the supposed safety that the government offers. In a world of intrusive government surveillance, this novel questions what it means to be free – does constant monitoring make us more safe or less so? As an academic exploration, I Am No One is an interesting read, but I just couldn’t get past the pompous, privileged narrative voice.
I received this novel from Tim Duggan Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.