Guillaume Morissette’s first novel recounts a year in the life of 26-year-old video-game designer and part-time creative-writing student Thomas, who attempts to navigate the ambiguous social waters of Montreal circa 2010. Told in stark prose that somehow manages to feel both ironic and sincere (a style reminiscent of American writer Tao Lin), New Tab is peppered with all manner of hipster twentysomethings sporting “sloppy bed hair that randomly look[s] excellent.” Morissette’s characters drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, call themselves “filmmakers” without any kind of pedigree, are constantly broke or between jobs, and show up to parties after midnight wearing “simple clothes and worn-out shoes.”
Thomas observes his peers and surroundings with an aloof, defamiliarizing perception. Of a potential roommate he remarks, “[Brent] looked like more of a dad than I ever would.” When another roommate makes chili, it looks like “beans and the colour red,” while the moon resembles “a rerun of old footage.” Thomas cares too much about his hair, which he describes as a “hostage situation,” and constantly neglects his job in favour of writing poetry and engaging in solipsistic Facebook conversations.
Trapped in a life in which his online friendships are more comprehensible than face-to-face interaction, Thomas meets a girl named Romy who seems just as befuddled by real-life human relationships. At one point, confused by his own lust while in bed with her, Thomas asks himself, “What do I want?” His conclusion is that the answer “was located on some sort of secret mental plane, one I didn’t have access to.”
Speech, thoughts, emails, texts, and Facebook messages are all presented using traditional quotation marks, which cleverly eliminates any distinction readers might want to make between different modes of expression. The point is that, for Thomas’s generation, the distinctions are irrelevant. Communication has become ubiquitous to the point of redundancy.
New Tab astutely captures the ennui, isolation, and disengagement of a generation that has been emotionally dismantled by the Internet, then set adrift in a world in which everything is connected and everyone is alone. “How will I check the Internet when I’m dead?” Thomas asks himself. How indeed.