The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen is a collection of short stories of love, identity and internet.
Each character is looking for love online, usually a transformative love that will solve everything and bring brilliance to the mundane. They each want so very desperately to meet and connect with someone else online.
There’s a hint of the bizarre running through the book, but isn’t meeting and falling in love kind of bizarre anyway? Cohen’s characters pretend to be Icelandic yak farmers while living a perfectly average life, or pretend a normal life over unpleasant circumstances. They pretend, through the magic of online profiles and early conversations, to be just slightly better than they are. Each story plays on the themes of misrepresenting oneself and of discovering something unexpected. I don’t want to recap any one of the short stories because I think a summary of events would miss the real point.
No characters appear in more than one story, but these repeated themes of misrepresentation, connection and discovery, and repeated motifs — enchiladas, ballet class — make this feel even more like one narrative.
The one weak point in this collection is a story about a polar bear online flirting with a deer. I usually enjoy magical realism, but this story just reminded me of all the criticism the genre can get as bizarre, awkward and creative-writing-workshop pieces. Skip this one for a cohesive narrative about love in the time of internet.
(I read this as an advance review copy, and while I’m deeply delighted to level up past receiving dreadful self-pubbed memoirs, and start receiving review copies for lyrical fiction, the ARC had one distinct disadvantage. I found myself highlighting so many beautiful or personal passages that I wanted to save and share, because I love the Kindle’s capability to share text socially, but unfortunately ARCs can’t support this. The language in this book is beautiful, with so many passages to highlight and remember and enjoy. And to share with others, over the internet.)