As Stephen Van Dyck was coming of age, the internet came of age around him.
For a gay teen in a small town, the internet meant the freedom to find other gay boys and men for dating, casual hookups, and friendship. In his new book, People I’ve Met from the Internet, Van Dyck has published a meticulously kept list of these encounters annotated with stories.
The list itself, published in non-annotated form at the start of the book, is entertaining to read, with snippets like “cuddled, asked me to call him Dad” that hint at a larger story. Van Dyck began maintaining a list of people he met on the internet over ten years ago as an art project. Though some encounters on the list are innocent (a few female friends, and some purchases of furniture through Craigslist) the meetings are overwhelmingly hookups.
The list grows more self-referential as we move through time to the point where Dyck began maintaining the list (at some points, he notes that people may be acting differently around him, either being more guarded or acting strangely on purpose, because they’re aware that he might write about them). This tracks on Dyck’s own evolution from the young teen he was at the start of the book to the performance artist he’s grown into by the end.
Van Dyck presents everything in a way that’s somehow both prosaic and poetic, laying out his life in blunt terms (each man is accompanied by the number of times Dyck kissed, sucked or fucked him). He evokes a sense of humor just by matter of factly stating things from his life (he poops at an outdoor retreat and someone comes up to hand him a poop shovel). But there’s an artfulness to the way everything is laid out, and how he connects seemingly unrelated threads. His parents’ deaths loom over the narrative – one entry is about the man he hired to recover his hard drive, on which he’d had irreplaceable photos of his father, who died a few years later.
People I’ve Met from the Internet serves as both a personal history and a history of the internet itself. Towards the beginning of the book, he recounts how he first installed AOL on his computer as a young teen. It’s a look back through time that will be nostalgic for anyone who lived through the 2000s, with musings on Xanga, the now-defunct Craigslist personals, and Myspace.
This short and sweet read is a must for anyone who enjoys literary works in experimental form or fragmented novels such as David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary.
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.