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Private Citizens

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From a brilliant new literary talent comes a sweeping comic portrait of privilege, ambition, and friendship in millennial San Francisco. With the social acuity of Adelle Waldman and the murderous wit of Martin Amis, Tony Tulathimutte’s Private Citizens is a brainy, irreverent debut—This Side of Paradise for a new era.

Capturing the anxious, self-aware mood of young college grads in the aughts, Private Citizens embraces the contradictions of our new century: call it a loving satire. A gleefully rude comedy of manners. Middlemarch for Millennials. The novel's four whip-smart narrators—idealistic Cory, Internet-lurking Will, awkward Henrik, and vicious Linda—are torn between fixing the world and cannibalizing it. In boisterous prose that ricochets between humor and pain, the four estranged friends stagger through the Bay Area’s maze of tech startups, protestors, gentrifiers, karaoke bars, house parties, and cultish self-help seminars, washing up in each other’s lives once again. 

A wise and searching depiction of a generation grappling with privilege and finding grace in failure, Private Citizens is as expansively intelligent as it is full of heart.

372 pages, Paperback

First published February 9, 2016

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About the author

Tony Tulathimutte

6 books151 followers
Tony Tulathimutte’s debut novel Private Citizens was called “the first great millennial novel” by New York Magazine. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has written for The New York Times, VICE, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, N+1, Playboy, The Paris Review, and others. He has received an O. Henry Award and a MacDowell Fellowship, and appeared as a guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

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5 stars
409 (16%)
4 stars
734 (30%)
3 stars
741 (30%)
2 stars
374 (15%)
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169 (6%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 343 reviews
Profile Image for David.
652 reviews303 followers
March 28, 2016
I loved reading this hopelessly self-aware, wonderfully erudite, and viciously satirical novel about a quartet of earnest, screw-up millennials. This book is wall to wall observations, asides and digressions on the nature of personal identity in a digital age. It’s almost too clever by half and I had to re-read it immediately after finishing it to figure out how I’d been fooled into thinking it clever. It’s like an MFA class ate a thesaurus and shit out this book.

Tulathimutte admits to being clever as a pre-emptive defence against potential arguments that he’s being ironic but then cops to the fact that acknowledging that invalidates his prior defence against trying to be clever - all embedded in the text of the story itself. If that kind of stuff makes you want to throw the book across the room — and really explaining it all makes me want to do just that — which he’s also already made note of too. See - intellectual stalemate. Tony Tulathimutte is smarter than I am and has already invalidated any argument I may have had for not giving this book a full 5 star rating despite an altogether on the nose ending.

I loved this book - individual results may vary.
Profile Image for Michael.
539 reviews50 followers
August 18, 2016
Tony Tulathimutte knows what you're going to think about his debut novel. He knows you're going to read the premise -- four over-privileged, over-indulged Stanford grads fuck up their lives in quintessentially millennial ways -- and roll your eyes. He also knows that after nearly every chapter you're going to keep rolling your eyes. More than any author I've read since (sure enough) David Foster Wallace, Tulathimutte has, like a seasoned chess player, anticipated your criticisms far in advance and set up booby traps for you to fall into and defensive feints for you to avoid. There's basically two stories happening here: the one Tulathimutte has written on the page, and the dialogue you have with Tulathimutte about what he wrote on the page. To call it metafiction isn't quite right; it's more like next-level boxing.

The chutzpah of this guy! This book would be intolerable if not for its author's supreme confidence and shimmering intelligence, both of which are evidenced on nearly every page. I read an interview Tulathimutte gave where he credits Philip Roth with opening his eyes to a certain way of approaching fiction writing, and it shows: Tulathimutte has Roth's gift of the seemingly-tangential, exquisitely-rendered tantrum. Private Citizens practically hums with a brutal energy, and the cultural riffs are the main reason you keep reading.

So why only three stars? Is it enough to say I appreciate all the authorial jiujitsu and lit-gamesmanship but still feel unsatisfied in the final analysis? I wouldn't presume to wish for characters (in this novel of all novels) that I can care about, latch onto, or (God forbid) like, but am I being horribly quaint in wishing they were at least recognizable as people rather than instruments of satire? I never really bought that Linda, Henrik, Cory, and Will were ever particularly close friends, mainly because I don't think they're at all capable of being close to anyone. Which may be the point, but jeepers, what a discouraging takeaway after 380 dense pages.

I also fatigued on Tulathimutte's sentences, which are so jam-packed with up-to-the-second information for us to unpack that I wish he trusted himself and let them breathe more often.

Despite those reservations, I heartily recommend this novel to my fellow (pre)-millennials, and will definitely keep an eye out for Tulathimutte's next project.
Profile Image for Alaina.
53 reviews112 followers
May 6, 2016
I'll admit that the premise of this book didn't immediately hook me. Reading self-conscious accounts about how ridiculous my generation is generally grates on me -- I don't need to be reminded of how hypocritical and narcissistic millennials can be. When I first dove in, my initial fears were confirmed: the book opens with four college friends, all failing at adulting in some specific way, complete with jaded scenes of drug use, meaningless sex, internet speak, and references to the mile-wide inch-thick support for myriad social justice causes.

Somewhere along the way, though, I fell head over heels for Tulathimutte's fast-paced fancy-vocabulary banter and for his deeply flawed characters. Though it took the characters longer to get where they were trying to go than I'd like to think most people of my demographic might, I was rooting for all of them by the end.
Profile Image for Alyson.
212 reviews18 followers
February 20, 2016
The writing was very good, brilliant even.

But the characters and their constant, unceasing self-indulgent whining and self-pity was pretty unbearable. And they are my age, so I can't blame generational gaps for ahting them. None of them evoked empathy, I just wanted to tell them to shut up and stop blaming everyone and everything for their own self-manufactured misery. The worst part is that every one of them admitted and supposedly 'owned' their shortcomings, but they only did this so they wouldn't actually have to change. It was like reading a 372 page pity-me facebook post. Albeit a beautifully written one.

I understand that they were all supposed to be extremes, and that in of itself didnt other me. It was just that I don't enjoy reading other people's whining, especially when it is clear that they are not really going to grow or develop as people/characters. Linda was the most interesting and least painful to read about, but not by much.

Some of the other reviews mentioned the use of thesaurus-heavy writing, but this didn't bother me. It felt like it fit with the characters and helped make the narrative consistent with the characters' pretentiousness.
Profile Image for Greg Zimmerman.
790 reviews172 followers
April 5, 2016
(First appeared at http://www.thenewdorkreviewofbooks.co...)

I could nominate an alternate title for this incredibly well-written, smart debut novel, it'd be "Hot Mess Millennials Make Increasingly Bad Decisions." I really dug this book because to me the only thing better than reading about one character who can't get out of his/her own way is FOUR characters for which that's true. And that's what we have here. Four recent Stanford grads try to navigate their treacherous 20s in San Francisco, to vastly varying degrees of success.

I liked this book because it elevates itself well above the familiar theme of "life is hard when you're young and stupid." For one, stories like this almost always takes place in New York – so seeing this one unfold amidst the tech boom of mid-2000s San Francisco was fascinating. Secondly, the characters in this type of story are often good people striving against tough circumstances. These characters are decidedly...off. But they all have their redeeming qualities as well. There's your porn addicted tech guru who is dating a young ambitious woman who sees people as mere pawns in her grand scheme, a flighty nihilist who uses sex as power, an idealistic liberal activist who fails basic tests of common sense, and the perennial student with the odd upbringing

So if you liked A Little Life, but wanted a novel maybe a little shorter and a lot less horrifying, this is the story for you. Tulathimutte is a really talented, sharp writer — you might even see whispers of DFW here and there in the way he writes goofy logical double-binds and turns of phrases. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Larry Hostetler.
395 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2015
I really wanted to like this book. Set in San Francisco it had me interested in advance.

Unfortunately, I had a number of issues with the book, and at this point let me say I am not sure to what extent it is because I am an "old fogey" and too far removed from the millennial generation that are the characters in this novel. To discern the extent to which that is the case, I am sending my copy to my 30-year old son for his feeling about it.

I found the characters to be solipsistic, and consequently not deserving of empathy. I like to identify with at least one of them.

It also seemed to me to have too much pendantic use of vocabulary. In the last 60 pages I encountered words such as eudaemonism, haplogroup, suplex, cicatrice, pith, and ruck, in addition to medical terms like hyponatremic, telogen, and planus. While I am the first to appreciate the use of the most appropriate word and the expansion of vocabulary, it can be distracting, particularly when it is so common and the words so uncommon. Sometimes an author will make use of a particular word and make it more useful because of it, but there were so many words I'd never seen before, many more than in William F. Buckley's works. (He is known for his use of unusual words, but even he didn't do it to the extent of Tulathimutte.

Without spoiling the end, there was little to redeem the book in the climax and denouement. Perhaps it was intended to be dystopian, but I wasn't prepared for that by the cover.

If it lets me, I'll update with the perspective of someone closer to the age of the characters in the book.
Profile Image for Fan Liu.
105 reviews27 followers
March 12, 2016
Private Citizens was amazing.

At first, it was like reading an infinite scroll of UC Berkeley confessions (even though the characters are post-grads of another Cali school, Stanford) - vapid at some points, keenly millennial in voice, then other points verging into sublime solipsisms of genius.

Also, have you ever read a book, and every so often you came across a passage or idea that just struck you as something that you’ve felt in a past life, but could never put into words? Yes! Reading Private Citizens, I’ve stumbled upon many of those sad-but-endearing moments.

The novel chronicles the bitter and caustic yet supremely hilarious life of four San Francisco denizens growing up in the late 2000s, integrating their lives between the fake SV underworld. The prose captures every essence of human emotion perfectly, ricocheting between silly to horrific. The author has an ability to twist and turn truisms into lies; lies into truisms. I felt heartbroken at the romance of Henrik and Linda; laughed at the comedic portrayals of other characters (e.g. Vanya, Roopa - holy shit I know people like this in real life); all in a blistery explosion of a novel.

Brilliantly written. Fascinatingly intelligent. Private Citizens is engrossing, a well-written satire of manners, entertaining at every level.

Time Spent: 3 hours
Rating: 5 out of 5
Tags: tragedy, California
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
Author 53 books551 followers
August 28, 2016
Remember that feeling when you first read Infinite Jest/A Visit from the Goon Squad/The Corrections? I have that feeling right now. Tony Tulathimutte is the real deal and I am so excited. Private Citizens is satirical and skewering and clever and heartfelt. Some of the best writing about feminism from a guy that I've ever read. Tulathimutte is definitely a voice of his generation and I'm all ears. This book is not perfect but holy moly it's ambitious and I'll take that over perfection any day.
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
655 reviews186 followers
August 28, 2019
So of the many book clubs I’ve involved myself with, one stands out as the oldest and perhaps best. We rotate hosts, and to avoid a tragedy of the commons situation, whoever hosts supplies all the food and wine (occasionally beer and liquor, as well), and gets to select three books that the group may vote on. I selected this book, in addition to Beartown by Fredrik Backman and The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. Private Citizens squeaked out the win, and I took to reading it without much prejudice as to whether or not I’d cotton to it.

Another tradition of this book club is that we go around the circle and say what our initial thoughts were, starting with the host. So I piped up and said what I thought: the book was funny, smart (but perhaps “too” smart), clever, and well-written. It had its rough spots, but particularly for a debut novel it was excellent, and I was eager to see what the author put out next.

Well that was the last encomium the book was to receive, because everyone else pretty much hated it. One person mentioned the editing, many mentioned the sloppy, self-aware grasp of feminism, the Oedipal ending felt too heavy-handed, everyone disliked pretty much every character, and many found the despair-amongst-such-privilege theme to be downright offensive.

The thing is, I don’t disagree with any of the above. And so maybe it’s just that I can deemphasize the foibles and have a greater affinity for what the book did well, which I thought was tell interesting stories, offer up witty banter, explore a microcosm of society, etc. Everyone did agree that the writer had talent and would in all probability write something good one day; but I’m still a bit too sheepish to recommend it to others with any degree of confidence…
Profile Image for David.
163 reviews508 followers
February 3, 2020
I've thought a lot about if I would review this book, and what I might say. Since moving to San Francisco, I've developed an interest in reading both fiction and nonfiction about or set in my adoptive Bay Area, so this book made a natural choice to pick up. While in general I don't find the 'twenty-somethings-maturing-in-the-big-city' premise to be a very interesting one, I figured that at worst I'd get some local color, nice writing, an interesting story. Unfortunately this book has none of those things.

This was easily the worst novel I read in 2019 - and possible the most embarrassing novel I have read in a long time / ever. Besides a bland premise, Tulathimutte manages to avoid telling any kind of interesting story or develop any 3-dimensional characters, or even to make any highlight-worthy turn of phrase or insight about life.

Let's consider the literary comparison's that the publisher invites:

...the social acuity of Adelle Waldman
Social acuity? If anything I was amazed at how little understanding of social dynamics or even just human behavior there was in the interaction between characters. The dialogue felt like an awkward hodgepodge of 2000s colloquialism and faux-heady conversation apropos of absolutely nothing ever spoken seriously aloud. Set in 'millennial San Francisco' Tulathimutte takes four generic stereotypes of young-coastal-elite elan and fractures it into four two dimensional characters. (1) the manic-pixie dreamgirl, edgy and tatted, high literary ambitions but basically no body of work, sarcastic and cutting but insecure; (2) the obsessive nonprofit do-gooder, basically a leveled up Save-The-Whales try-hard stock character from every 90s teen movie; (3) a computer nerdy Asian male with twisted masculinity issues; (4) a failing post-grad scientist with a dark relationship with his father and an ex-girlfriend. If you're thinking that you've heard of any or all of these before, it's because they're at best worn out character archetypes and boring stereotypes that you can find in basically any YA novel, B-rate TV show or movie. For the most part these characters barely interact for nearly the entirety of the book, and when they do it adds almost nothing to their development (of which there is almost none, anyway). Not a single character feels real, nor even ironically surreal enough to be worthy of 'satire' - the closest you get is a sort of manic social media obsessed girl friend of the Asian male lead.

The central conceit around four different-but-connected characters comes to nothing. All of their voices sound and feel the same. There is no real social exploration, as the characters seem to exist almost exclusively inside the same bubble, never interacting with societal issues face to face, or even members of society outside their small spoiled clique. While that is easy to do with today's technology, it seems a pregnantly missed opportunity that a novel with four different narrators fails to have any from outside the same privileged milieu, especially when the setting of San Francisco invites such compelling opportunities to address the coexistence of parallel but deeply different lives.

...and the murderous wit of Martin Amis
The prose style of Private Citizens suffers greatly under the onus of Tulathimutte's constant resort to the thesaurus. Almost no sentence or character 'voice' is spared the awkward insertion of some esoteric approximation of a common word or idea, which adds no nuance to the meaning of what is written. Personally I love reading books with large vocabularies, but there is clearly a way that it can be done well (Nabokov, for example, or D.F.W. sometimes but not always). When an author flexes the English language well, it adheres to a musical cadence, it adds nuance, creates an image or metaphor that caries, it enhances the writing in such a way that it outweighs the cost of having to pause and look the word up, for the reader. Here it feels gratuitous, and makes the otherwise fine and unadornedly direct prose taste even uglier to read.

...brainy, irreverent debut...
At this point maybe an example of the writing would make clear what you can expect, vis-a-vis the prose style and general philosophical 'insight' offered by this novel:
If life was matter, what form, phase, state? Was it a fabric, as the saying went, a differentially deforming continuum? Or was it the other saying, a river: fluid and turbulent? No, definitely a solid, considering it's modes of failure. How it held together and fell apart. Fatigue. Fracture. Shock. Stress. Cracking. Crazing. Life was no gas. Life was definitely solid. Life was hard.

I'd hardly say that any comment is necessary to address how cringingly amateur and unprofound (not to mention long-winded in proportion to the non-payoff of the 'punchline') this is. Examples can be found on nearly every page, but this one stood out as especially bad.

As for the book being 'irreverent' I can't imagine how. The book takes many easy punches. Characters are created and you can foresee immediately how they will be knocked down, pages in advance. Tulathimutte manages to write nearly 500 pages about the 'millennial' San Francisco while adding absolutely nothing to that conversation. No nuance, no insights, no surprises.

Skip it.
Profile Image for Clare Flanagan.
19 reviews4 followers
June 23, 2019
Man oh man. As a young Stanford alum bumbling around San Francisco in the weird nether years after graduation, I was really looking forward to reading this novel about a group of estranged friends who are in exactly the same place in their lives (albeit about 15 years ago, in the mid-2000s.) I was warned by the person who recommended it to me that it might bring on some nausea, but I didn't expect it to make me any sicker than I feel daily about my own role in the Bay Area circus. This book was often painful to read, but not because it offered any particularly cutting insight into the weird maelstrom of privilege, alienation, and self-loathing that many Stanford grads find themselves spinning in after leaving. Instead, it let me down because felt less like a coherent story than a cumbersome vehicle for verbose ideas and anxieties that didn't seem to fully belong to any of the characters.

Though it's narrated by 4 fairly distinct figures– unstable Henrik; horrible Linda; cold, creepy tech denizen Will; and pitiable, idealistic Cory– this story might as well have been told by an omniscient narrator. The most prominent voice in the story, or so it seemed to me, was Tulathimutte's. As the book proceeded, the characters' external and internal monologues became indistinguishable from one another– all littered with lengthy words and phrases like "vivarium", "gravamina", "demosaic", and "reactionary Cartesian sentimentalism." At least once every three to five pages, the narrator would drift away from the action to engage in high-IQ reveries weighed down with references to other authors. This certainly convinced me that Tulathimutte is brilliant. It did not, however, convince me to care about or believe in any of his characters. Though it often seemed as if he were deliberately trying to concoct the most unlikeable personas possible, I wasn't even invested enough to be annoyed by them.

Perhaps this results from my own experiential bias– I've been immersed in this intensely cerebral, mind-bogglingly privileged, and often uniquely awful cohort of young people for the last five years. Maybe Tulathimutte's written representations can't quite replicate the actual Henriks, Lindas, Cories, and Wills that I know, love, despise, and avoid. But there are other factors that keep his characters from coming to life, besides my own bias (and the unlikely similarity of each one's internal voice.) Henrik's backstory is wildly improbable, and after a gratuitous, shocking encounter with Linda towards the book's end, sensitive Cory bumbles onward as if it didn't even happen. Will's startup-CEO girlfriend, Vanya, has absolutely no redeeming qualities– trust me, I've met some terrible examples of her ilk, but she is impossibly robotic and self-centered. Though I understand that the plot's extreme swerving might have been intentionally accelerated by satire, its unlikely twists and fragmented time-hopping further undermined any attachment I might have formed to the characters or their fates. I finished the book with a lot of questions, many of them concerning what exactly even happened.

All this aside, I'm glad I read "Private Citizens". Though it didn't capture the complexity of post-Stanford San Francisco purgatory as well as I hoped it would, it was often entertaining, darkly funny, and, of course, whip-smart. To anyone who's interested in reading it, especially Stanford graduates, I'd say this– don't expect it to offer you a chillingly lifelike tableau of the disparate lives we live, connected as we are by time spent at a name-brand institution. Expect to get a bright but narrow window into the observations, misgivings, and judgments of one brilliant mind, refracted into four interesting but unconvincing characters. Tulathimutte is a formidable writer with a turbo-charged intellect–there's no disputing that. As a novelist, however, he has a lot of room to grow.
Profile Image for Chris Roberts.
Author 1 book46 followers
February 19, 2016
...for the jugular vein.

Souls are cheap in Hell, at a premium in Heaven and what lies in-between is lived average. This novel is cheap and its author is made out cheaper in his thesaurus suit.

This is an overly indulgent, literary fueled storyline. I don't particularly, utterly care what these deadbeat, nobody characters are "doing." I think most chimney sweeps have a more profound, cosmic view.

Does the ego quite control the twenty-four hours of the writer? A hint: not everything you write needs reading, because un-reading this tripe is not an option, it will kill the reader.

The use of superfluous prose is often employed to disguise a faulty, or in this case familiar and or dead urban setting. San Francisco, really, in real time? Brah, the city lived and died in the nineteen-sixties. Hippies are ghosting, not posting on Suckbook. Wave goodbye and goodbye.

On that note, don't. write. another. word. ever. and. the. world. will. remember. you. again. I think.

If you want to duel me, I'm down, in surround sound - just not the Bay "City." Anywhere else will be the wave.

Chris Roberts, God of You
Profile Image for Bibliophile.
781 reviews73 followers
September 12, 2016
It's always a pleasant surprise when you end up liking a book that initially pissed you off. I didn't know what to think for the first fifty pages. A hundred pages in, I was shocked, appalled and scandalized by the astonishingly unlikeable characters. Around page 200, I started feeling helplessly entertained by their gleeful awfulness. The final pages left me impressed, which, after all that self-pity, narcissism, white girl dreadlocks and awkward sex is quite a feat. Actually, the four main characters (millenials in SF) are made less despicable by two of the supporting characters, who are so disagreeable they actually make the main players look half way decent (do people like Vanya and Roopa really exist?!).

Satire doesn't do much for me, but this is so well written, irreverent and funny, I'm glad I persisted. Also, it pretty much confirmed my suspicion that we're all doomed, and it's always nice to have one's worst fears corroborated.

Profile Image for Jamie Canaves.
841 reviews253 followers
February 13, 2016
People complaining about how terrible the characters behaved in this novel was actually what made me want to pick it up. Yes, I like fckd up fictional characters. When there's a point, which there certainly was. This isn't people just being crappy to be crappy, the author was making a point/observing our society--sometimes representing it absurdly which led to moments of me laughing while thinking I should not be laughing at this.

You have four main characters living in San Fransisco whose lives intersected in college and are once again going to intersect told in different blocks of time. They each range from struggling to be to holy-hotmess. Their actions, interactions, lives, thoughts take us through identity issues, substance abuse, disability, racism, mental illness, social activism, the weight of our choices/beliefs... as they each try and make sense of their current life or try and accomplish their goals.

For fans of satire.
Profile Image for Brian.
45 reviews7 followers
April 26, 2016
My favourite book of 2016 so far.

Reads a bit like Jonathan Franzen, if only Franzen a) weren't the obnoxious Wonder Bread of the literary world, b) had a sense of word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence style, and c) could resist pat moralizing and holier-than-thou platitudes.
Profile Image for Carmen Petaccio.
227 reviews12 followers
March 8, 2016
A major work destined to be dismissed by minor minds.

Profile Image for Leo Robertson.
Author 35 books432 followers
February 13, 2020
Moments of brilliance sandwiched between pages of cold prose. Never connected to the characters and eventually stopped giving a shit :D

But this guy's onto something! Something brilliant coming one day—like his short story The Feminist in n+1, check it out! He goes off on male feminists in this book too—one that he met obviously rubbed him the wrong way ;)

For now though, same problem I had with Curtis Sittenfeld's first book: the author didn't know where the story was. You can't just say "It all started when" and start writing. It actually needs to start lol
Profile Image for Katie.
700 reviews8 followers
July 26, 2016
NO. Nope nope nope. I really wanted to like it. NYMag even touted it as the "First Great Millenial Novel" which, for as terrible a reputation that we as millenials have, I thought was still worthy of excitement. Maybe it would offer insight into why millenials seem worthy of antagonization, or more importantly, prove that we are really a lot like every generation that came before us.

The good part is that the four so-called millenials in this novel are not the reason to dislike it. They are, in general, selfish and unlikable but multifaceted in a way that may have been served with more skillful and focused narrative and writing. Did it challenge the way we are to view millenials? Absolutely not. It didn't NEED to, but it would have been nice for some analysis and synthesis regarding the four main characters. Two out of four of them go through a major change of character before the novel's end but unfortunately it felt unearned.

Here's my real issue, and I rarely feel this way: it honestly seemed as if Tulathimutte had his laptop in front of him and his thesaurus in his lap. I was looking up roughly 2-4 words per page, most of them so super specific that it was hard to justify the usage. At first, I thought that the style of writing was only specific to Linda, the hyper-literate ultra-defensive trouble addict. Then I noticed it had crept into all the other character's sections. Turns out that it's not just Linda who's yearning to be known as hyper-literate: It's Tulathimutte. He's proved it, just at the cost of the readability of his novel.

Profile Image for Drew.
1,569 reviews502 followers
March 14, 2016
It drifts a bit at times and the panoramic scope is just too wide for the novel to sustain - but Tony Tulathimutte has a keen ear for dialogue, a gift for making the ridiculousness of our present culture seem utterly plausible, and the ability to write four characters who you end up loving despite all their totally ridiculous flaws. Because you know them, or somebody quite like them. And when he writes dialogues about the truthfulness (or not) of being an author, of trying to grapple with the world through writing, you not only see the meta wink but wink right back - because chance are you're thinking about it too. It's a great debut and one that captures better than most just how it is that we're living today.

More at RB: http://wp.me/pGVzJ-1kg
Profile Image for Jenna.
91 reviews
May 15, 2016
This book is really interestingly-written, and even occasionally beautiful, but my god, are the characters despicable. It's like an episode of HBO's Girls, in literary format. Except it takes way more energy and time to hate-read than it does to hate-watch, so it was kind of a painful slog. Maybe, at the ripe old age of 30, I'm just too old for stories of terrible 20-somethings without a shred of their shit together, satirical or otherwise.
Profile Image for Sophie.
312 reviews14 followers
March 29, 2016
Amazing for a first book! The sentences were sharp and sparkled. There were occasional characters who had angst-millennial-privileged-driven tirades that got a little easy to skim though. What do the kids say now? TLDR.

Also? It sort of feels like Tony hates these characters more than he loves them. Which is fine, but this book feels in a lot of ways like he's just reaping revenge in distilled versions of each of these people who he has met in varying forms throughout his life. I felt worse for Cory than I did for Will at the end, which is weird!

"Why reaffirm dead friendships when she could be writing, or at least thinking about writing, instead of thinking of not thinking about it?"

"By reputation, Henrick was all upper-duck"

"But this weather. So nice. Days like this you have to have fun or you'll hate yourself when you're older."

"Roopa was rigid, the way free spirits often were, about the romance of naturopathy and well-being as morality."

"How could people be moral when morality obliged you to know everything?"

"Will stared at Vanya staring at her laptop."

"Vanya knocked her laptop monitor askew, and Will stared at her ceiling, adjusting his own monitor as if that would do anything."

"Her manager fired her on the spot, and Linda did not cry, though she was bothered by how easy it was to take things seriously just because other people did."

"He's have to start another project from scratch. He'd have to scratch up scratch, from scratch. He took the stairs down into the evening."

"College is what, math and computers? Or books about what people said in other books?"

"Exploded moose. A swarm of pamphlet-size butterflies flapping away from a hulking black storm front."

"The more mutinous studying he did, the more he packed up his emotional belongings and moved upstairs into his head. (It wasn't roomy but it was quiet, furnished with a library and wall-to-wall mirrors.)"

"She stopped and stood vanquished near a ficus."

"Dooms settles in the next morning when they wake up, poisoned by fun."

"He registered the difference between eye contact and someone looking at your eyeball."

"If you're worried about redeeming your privilege, you have to work at being happy."

"A crib was a cage. Wombs, cribs, rooms, tombs."

Profile Image for India Braver.
390 reviews24 followers
March 8, 2017
Kind of like a more messed up millennial version of The Interestings or a less tragic version of A Little Life- but with all the characters being troubled af still. But it's in that FX's You're the Worst/Netflix's Love/whatever tv show Amazon does that's similar, kind of way where you still feel for the characters and you keep reading- even though you know they're maybe horrible human beings? I think the writing is brilliant at times- like if people who wrote Talk of The Town's for the New Yorker wrote about messed up millennial case studies- this is the voice it projects. It's compelling and easy to get lost into, and sure maybe the characters have a lot of issues, but that's what makes them human. I do think the characters are a bit charactericatur-ized and annoying at times, but they're also layered and maybe more than realistically self aware, and I couldn't help feeling a sense of celebration for them at the end.
Profile Image for Kasa Cotugno.
2,338 reviews441 followers
September 22, 2016
I wanted to read about the generation that has colonized San Francisco from their point of view. Each of the four central figures in this original novel would be blessed with what from the outside appears to be a privileged life hack via a Stanford diploma, which by most accounts opens many doors. However, their divergent backstories have laden them down with baggage carried forward. Some shocking choices are made, resulting in untoward outcomes. I probably would have given more of a thumbs up if I were closer in age, but I must admit impatience at the waste of opportunity and constant navel gazing.
Profile Image for Kellie.
9 reviews
January 15, 2017
Self indulgent drivel. The author can learn something about brevity from this review.
Profile Image for Serafina Consolo.
70 reviews247 followers
March 4, 2021
San Francisco, primi anni 2000.
Benvenuti ad un nuovo teatrino del grottesco!

Sul palco quattro personaggi adulti (ma non troppo) girovagano tra privilegio, ambizione e capitalismo sfrenato mentre l’autore li dirige a colpi di penna. Ne viene fuori una critica fortemente satirica e dal taglio tragi-comico ad una società piena di contraddizioni.

Will, Linda, Cory e Henrik sono amici dai tempi di Stanford, un’università Ivy League che rappresenta per molti un trampolino di lancio, per loro è invece soltanto una porta verso la disillusione.

Per un motivo o per un altro, ognuno di loro si ritroverà coscientemente inadatto alla società in cui alberga. Ed è proprio per questa loro consapevolezza di sé che l’insistenza nel replicare certi meccanismi perversi non può che chiamarsi autosabotaggio.

Sono tutti personaggi detestabili intrappolati nella loro autocommiserazione, ma le loro voci sono taglienti e chirurgiche nel mettere a nudo cosa c’è dietro a questa atavica infelicità. Eppure non vengono mai ritratti come vittime, anzi, semmai sono carnefici di se stessi.

Dopo un inizio un po’ respingente ho trovato uno stile brillante anche se a tratti un po’ troppo autocompiaciuto. L’analisi estrema, insieme all’elemento iperbolico, può infastidire il lettore, nonostante sia funzionale alla satira orchestrata nei minimi dettagli.

È un esordio con un’idea ma non privo di difetti. Si sente l’influenza di autori che amo – Wallace, Roth, Franzen – ma in un certo senso manca la loro nonchalance. A volte l’autore riesce nel suo intento, altre volte il ritmo diventa un po’ macchinoso per il palesarsi del suo sforzo.

A me è piaciuto perché sono affine a questo tipo di narrazione, #TonyTulathimutte è stato bravo a ritrarre il disagio contemporaneo. Aspetto il suo prossimo romanzo!
Profile Image for Maxwell M.
2 reviews
February 20, 2023
Sometimes i felt like the cynical, meta aware, hyper critical, woke-to-death-but-also-aware-that-youre-woke writing kind of inverted on itself too much and made all the characters feel like they had the same voice. Often times they literally did since the author uses the same sort of witty wordplay for each voice.
But thats why i read it so quickly. I just wanted a continuous stream of meta critical hyper awareness. Its set in 2008 but feels like it anticipated post-2020 cynical life. And it comforted me to read characters STUCK in the same kind of perpetual dialogue/argument/paradox while watching their 20s collapse and their friends fade away because i feel stuck in it too hahahaha.
Profile Image for Caleb Tankersley.
Author 2 books34 followers
May 19, 2016
On the sentence level, Private Citizens is impressive. Tony Tulathimutte is clearly a talented writer who'll win awards someday. And yet, I can't help feeling deeply dissatisfied with this novel. It was too much an intellectual exercise. I came away thinking "wow, Tulathimutte is really smart," but I didn't feel anything for the characters. The novel is lacking in emotional impact, which I assume is on purpose: you can't get too close to any of these characters without despising them. Looking down on them (and the types they represent) seems to be part of the point of the book, thus the intellectual exercise. But even as I type this, I realize what an easy set-up that is: Tulathimutte crafts exaggerated, overly negative, entitled millennials with almost no self-awareness who never learn from their mistakes. I think Tulathimutte imagined that laughing at or hating on these characters would be part of the fun, but it's too easy for the reader to get any real joy. Plus there's no emotional core to fall back on, so I end up seeing the novel as cynical and joyless, which seems to be the very attitudes Tulathimutte is critiquing his characters for expressing. I get that it's satire, that Tulathimutte is holding a mirror to us millennials. But is it illuminating anything we didn't already know about our worst selves? And can I get anything out of that as a message: "Hey, you and your generation can be self-absorbed assholes sometimes." Okay, sure, fine. Now tell me something new. Give me something to care about. It's hard to find anything to give a shit about in Private Citizens.

Am I wrong on this? Did I miss something? I got the distinct feeling that I was missing the joke or the point or some major piece of the project here that would make the reading more fulfilling and enjoyable. If you find that something I missed, please let me know.

Admittedly, I enjoyed some of the sentence-level work. I'll read Tony Tulathimutte's next book. But I don't think I'll touch Private Citizens again.
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