But perhaps this is what love looks like in the twenty-first century. There’s the heart pumping in our chests, and the one that thrums online, beating a binary rhythm, zeroes and ones. Paul has to find that version of his son. –Joshua Mohr, All This Life
The morning commute is a lot of things–life-changing is normally not one of them. But on one morning of traffic crawling across the Golden Gate Bridge seemingly like any other, fog rolling across the Bay and not yet fully removed from drivers heads, father Paul and son Jake see something. Something that causes them to stop their car and stand out on the road and cry out. And from that day forward, their lives are changed.
Joshua Mohr’s All This Life is the story of Paul and Jake, the gap between them, and the story of the tragedy they witnessed. Paul, divorced and alone in every way, can’t connect with a world always on Facebook and texting with emoticons. Paul’s character reminded me a bit of something a more authentic, less snarky, Joshua Ferris would write. Paul’s son Jake is the epitome of this tech world: he’s always plugged in, headphones on. Siri’s voice, calling his name, soothes him in a way his father’s never could. He films content on his phone and loads it online as he believes creating content to be his generation’s calling.
Paul and Jake’s lives intertwine with those of others down on their luck but ever-hopeful: there’s Sara, living in a small town in the Arizona-Nevada border desert where men road-fish (literally pretend to fish in the road) for fun. Unfortunately, and without explanation, her boyfriend has just released a sex tape, allowing Sara to become a slut of the week on amateur sites.
Sara’s first love, Rodney, another main character of the story, is now known as balloon boy throughout his neighborhood, as he plummeted in a fall off a weather balloon, and (among other injuries) has aphasia, unable to speak as clearly as he thinks.
Rodney’s mom, Kathleen, abandoned her family after her son’s accident. She is now a caricaturist drawing portraits for tourists on the boardwalk in San Francisco, allowing the story to come full circle. Kathleen’s portion especially lends the story a now-ness, as she lives in San Francisco’s Mission District and identifies with the area’s artists, looking down upon the new luxury housing being built to accommodate the ever-burgeoning influx of tech bros. I understand Mohr’s desire to work a gentrification, tech boom slice of the city into the narrative, but it doesn’t ring true, as Kathleen is a recent transplant herself.
Mohr’s prose is rich and heady, as he taps into the heartstrings of both a middle-aged man going through a life crisis and an adolescent millenial. He describes everything from suicide to emotional breakdowns in crisp, staggering beauty. Most notably, he describes the thought process of a kid who thinks in Google searches (“A Google search of his favorite things would not reveal the boy as a page one result.”) and clicks, a kid so in tune with the world online that he’s not sure what the one offline means anymore. All of Jake’s internet metaphors for feelings and life itself are startling and hilarious.
Although this book starts out incredibly depressing, and does have some dark threads of loss running throughout the entire novel, it is really a book about people triumphing. People struggle, yes, but ultimately they can persevere and look up from their phones now and then. We can come together, despite all these technological barriers. And yes, I said barriers–this book is fairly anti-technology, ultimately leaving it as the monster hiding in the closet, hurting us all. Whether you agree with that or not, Mohr’s All This Life is worth a read.