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The Ghost Network

Fiction  |  Novel
288 pages
5½” x 7½” perfect-bound trade paperback
eBook formats available
ISBN 978-1612194349
First Edition
Melville House
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Available HERE
Review by Leland Cheuk

Why are works about pop ephemera not considered literary? Perhaps MFA programs are brainwashing writers into tackling only what is ‘timeless,’ for the fear that work will become dated and easily forgotten. But what if a work is actually about one’s love of pop ephemera? Isn’t love timeless?

Catie Disabato’s novel, The Ghost Network, doesn’t shy away from peppering the reader with many, many pop culture references that conjure what it’s like to live in the 21st century in all its social-media-saturated, Pitchfork-reading glory. Famous pop singer Molly Metropolis (think: Lady Gaga, M.I.A., Sia) disappears, and a journalist named Cyrus Archer pens a manuscript about the search for her, only to disappear himself. Enter the narrator, Catie Disabato, who presents us Archer’s manuscript with her footnotes. What follows is layers upon layers of love triangles, an incredible soundtrack of EDM, synth-pop, and indie rock favorites from the past ten years, and an avant-garde urban planning group with an “aesthetics-based approach to social change” (whatever that means), and all of this somehow involves cartography and Chicago’s labyrinthine subway system.

The nesting-dolls structure of the narration distances the reader from the novel’s characters enough to blunt our emotional attachment to the story. Most of the narrative is told and not shown.

Eventually, Taer turned the conversation to Nix’s relationship with Molly Metropolis and the fallout from her disappearance. Taer recorded the discussion,* even though Nix asked for their chat to be off the record. Taer assured Nix that she wouldn’t give the Tribune her quotes “but if they ask me to get something specific for you, and I already have it, I can just ask you about it. Plus, there are laws to protect anonymous sources, if you want to become an anonymous source.”

This is Archer’s account of what Taer said about a discussion with Molly Metropolis’ boyfriend about his relationship to the pop star. To further separate you from what actually happens in the scene, the footnote by Disabato comments at length on Taer’s fascination with recording devices. The reader has to be willing to sift through these constant and intentional obfuscations to buy into the story.

I enjoyed The Ghost Network most when we romped through the pop culture of the aughts. In the passage below, four decades of artists are referenced in one paragraph:

To begin realizing her Situationist goals, Molly Metropolis first had to make herself a star. She began working with a producer named Davin Karl, who had written and produced songs for Britney Spears and Kelly Rowland. Karl suggested she change her persona from a Fiona Apple disciple to a dance-pop artist […] To build an identity authentic in its artifice, she developed part-Britney coquettishness, combined with what Molly called a “dirty Outrun Electro synthesizers” aesthetic, combined with Freddie Mercury, combined with Holly Golightly.

Disabato the Author lightly skewers our obsession with celebrities, as well as the highbrow, jargon-filled manner with which journalists write about those obsessions. While Disabato may be making fun of that type of writing, she’s also exhibiting a deep knowledge and love for all the music and art she references. Furthermore, Disabato deserves credit for creating a credible, contemporary urban environment populated by characters of fluid ethnicity and sexuality. Molly Metropolis is mixed-race, and straight folks are the minority in Molly’s universe.

I enjoyed the novel’s Pynchonesque conspiracy theories even though they made me wonder more than once: why urban planning, of all things? But the joy of reading The Ghost Network is in watching all these seemingly disparate compartments of Molly Metropolis’ life find their way back together into a cohesive whole. I was made strangely nostalgic for the music of the previous decade, and while the twists and turns of the plot don’t hit the reader in the gut, The Ghost Network is, in its own weedy way, a love letter to subwaying through Chicago while listening to the post-grunge indie-fication of dance, pop, R&B, and rock, while reading Gawker on your iPhone.

Four out of five stars.

LELAND CHEUK is the author of the novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong (CCLaP Publishing, 2015). He is a MacDowell Colony fellow, and his work has appeared in The Rumpus, Kenyon Review, Pank Magazine, and others. His story collection, Letters from Dinosaurs, is forthcoming in 2017. He lives in Brooklyn.

• The reviewer purchased this book at an indie bookstore and does not know the author or publisher personally. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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