In Barbara Browning’s second novel, a dancer who has returned to academia is in Croatia for a conference when Michael Jackson dies. Distressed MJ’s contributions to contemporary dance were substantial, after all he’s stumbling through the Web when he happens upon an amateur YouTube video: a young woman dancing to Erik Satie, classical steps occasionally interrupted by moonwalks. As other cultural icons pass Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham, Les Paul she provides new videos, which he duly watches. He’s also watching her regular commenters, who seem to be operating in channels of their own: one seems to be in love with her, while another is making what appear to be veiled threats.
For years we have been told that our “real” lives and our online lives were entirely distinct, and should remain so. Browning’s story upends that notion entirely: being connected is a basic human desire, and we gravitate toward anything that brings us connections. There are truths to be learned in person, and truths to be found on the screen; but truth remains truth, even when it’s presented with Like and Dislike buttons, and Browning won’t let you shrug it off just because of its possibly murky origins.