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Frank Nevis knows that there's more than one way to get famous in America. When massive flooding strikes his town, only Frank has the presence of mind to weave a fabricated story into the actual drama unfolding around him. After all: what better way to attract interest and funding for his now-defunct reality show career? Fueled by the blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter, and the echo chamber of the 24-hour news cycle Frank's fabrication is soon the biggest story breaking, but how long can he maintain his hastily-constructed lie? And where is the line, in the American audience's thirst for "reality entertainment," between the drama of Frank's unraveling plans and his and his family's fictional hardships? Written in a style intended to mimic the overwhelming cacophony that is news and culture in the 21st century, The Prank explores the question of reality in the digital age, where viral falsehoods and reported lies are par for the course.
Written by Adam Black
Cover Design by Tom Maven
Posted May 15, 2012
The story begins, and the town of Gill Falls, Missouri is flooding. Six-year-old Melissa Nevis is in a boat by herself, being carried by the floodwaters towards the falls. This child is in danger. This story must be told.
And so it is, told in the way that news stories are told these days, through Facebook posts, news articles, breaking news bulletins, fan pages, commentary, open letters, and interviews, etc. Reading this feels like following a real news story online.
We, as news/entertainment consumers, have learned to pay attention to information differently than we used to. We skim and scan, focusing our attention on stories or threads or posts that interest us and skipping the rest.
In addition, the news media is no longer as concerned about making sure that the facts are correct or that they are reporting accurately. “News” is now more a race to see who can reveal the story first and make the most people pay attention to their story the fastest.
Black believes that these phenomena have ramifications for how we think, how we process information, as well as how truth is presented and accepted.
Black briefly presents this in a foreword, and brilliantly illustrates it in THE PRANK. I was drawn in by the author’s premise, and following the story of Melissa Nevis was entertaining (because isn’t that what news is?), penetrating and perceptive.
The author wrote this story as if it were a breaking online news story (A Child is in Danger! What is going to happen? Here is the latest on Melissa Nevis!), and he expects that readers will read it as they would an actual online news story, skimming, sometimes skipping, reading the posts and threads and information that interest us in the moment.
As I read, there was some skimming - not much skipping - I was eager to find out what happened next in the Melissa Nevis saga. At the same time I found myself considering questions raised by his premise and the story itself...
How does reading this way inform how we perceive the world? If we gather information in this way, and if the news media races to produce information without making sure their information is correct, how do we, how can we, know what the truth is? And, of course, what’s happening with Melissa Nevis?!
This book would be a great book for a book group. It raises questions about the news and truth and how we - individually and collectively - perceive and react to what we see online.
Is this perhaps malignant phenomena of this digital age in which we live? Discuss.
I have been telling everybody about this book. I've ordered copies into the bookstore where I work and will have it featured in the store. This is a book worth reading.
Note: I find it at least a little bit ironic that I am telling you about this book in a blog...one of the media highlighted in the book. Not that blogs are intrinsically malignant, it's just another example of how we gather information. How many of you reading this right now cherry-pick your way through blogs? My guess? We all do. (This review was originally published by me on my blog: Not the New York Times Book Review on blogspot in September 2011.)
Posted November 7, 2011
No text was provided for this review.