A Reading List of False Identities ‹ Literary Hub
False identities serve as fascinating and persistent plot devices because we all desire, at some point, to reinvent ourselves in pursuit of liberation or existential deception, curiosity or fantasy or survival.
In one of the most canonical examples of this genre, Patricia Highsmith’s The talented Mr Ripley, when Tom Ripley adopts the identity of Dickie Greenleaf through murderous methods, all hell breaks loose. But since the advent of the Internet Novel, characters don’t necessarily have to kill anyone to steal their identity; it’s much easier now to pretend to be someone else.
Social media accounts are an essential plot device in contemporary fiction, as characters use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Gmail, and even LinkedIn. (I am sometimes entertained by wondering if Emma Bovary would create a “finsta” to share the occasional nude with Rodolphe or Leon, or if Raskolnikov would be a rabid Redditor, dissolving in moral hysteria in the AITA forum “Am I the asshole” with a halfheartedly disguised username.)
The narrator of my first novel, A new obsession, is an aspiring writer named Naomi who uses social media to stalk — and eventually befriend under false pretenses — Rosemary, her boyfriend’s ex. After hiding on Rosemary’s Tumblr blog and Facebook profile, conspirator Naomi creates a fake Instagram account to circumvent Rosemary’s privacy restrictions, a slippery slope that ultimately ends in disaster. I wanted to probe the darker consequences of our desires to construct a false self – and I’m fascinated, always, by books that attempt to do the same. Here are some books featuring variations on the “false identity” genre.
Alexandra Andrews, Who is Maud Dixon?
If you are a fan of The Talented Mr. Ripley, you’ll probably enjoy this juicy, fast-paced literary thriller. When Florence Darrow is hired to assist reclusive and renowned author Maud Dixon, the two enigmatic women travel together to Morocco, where Maud intends to do research for her next novel. But waking up in the hospital after a horrific car accident, with no memory of the previous night, Florence realizes that Maud is missing, and thus a dangerously seductive opportunity presents itself – a chance, perhaps, to take her square.
Laurent Oyler, Fake accounts
I mean, the title really says it all! In Lauren Oyler’s debut, even though the narrator’s boyfriend is outed as a literal conspiracy theorist, it’s the narrator herself who travels to Berlin to perform her internet faking, constantly going on dates. you with unsuspecting people who don’t realize that she is creating new identities, new personalities, on the spot, as a form of perverse social performance.
Elaine Hsieh Chou, disorientation
In Chou’s hilarious antics in the hallowed halls of college, the plot hinges on a very specific lie that I refuse to spoil for you. When doctoral student Ingrid Yang, desperate to complete her thesis on the late canonical poet Xiao-Wen Chou, accidentally stumbles upon a strange note in Chou’s archives one afternoon, she is determined to investigate. In no time, Ingrid’s research leads to an explosive discovery, shaking everyone around her. According to Alexander Chee, disorientation “reimagines the satire of the campus novel as an Asian American literary studies whodunnit, in which the murder victim could be your idea of yourself, however you identify.”
Siri Hustvedt, Headband
In this haunting and philosophical coming-of-age novel, Iris, a graduate student in literature, dresses up as Klaus, the fictional protagonist of a German short story she co-translates with her professor. Traveling the city dressed as a man, she opens up and embodies her transformative fantasies. It’s a truly compelling portrait of a woman trying to both find herself and escape by entering other lives, other experiences.
Brit Bennet, The evanescent half
This propulsive, hugely engaging and powerful novel follows twin sisters Desiree and Stella after they leave their hometown of Mallard and embark, as young women, on two very different paths. Although they are both light-skinned black women, Stella chooses to reinvent herself by “passing” as white in her new town, hiding her true identity from her community, her husband, and even her own daughter, with shattering consequences for everyone involved.
by Caitlin Barasch A new obsession is available now through Dutton.