I’m worried that people will think I hate them if I too strongly recommend literally show me a healthy person, Darcie Wilder’s stunning debut novel. Although it only takes a few hours to read, the novel deals extensively with the narrator’s mother’s death, her father and mother’s at-times violent marriage, her own rocky romantic relationships, drinking, cum, drinking cum and general young-adult malaise. Though the book is a novel, it often hews close to Wilder’s actual life. She’s emphatic, in her conversation with me and others, that it is not non-fiction or memoir. Read an excerpt of her novel here.
Wilder is something of a sensation online. The 27-year-old has amassed 88,000 Twitter followers on her personal account, @333333333433333, and she runs at least a certain percentage of the official @MTVNEWS account as a staff writer. You know immediately a Darcie Wilder tweet when you see one. Usually, it combines death, deglamorized substance abuse and, well, cum. Wilder tweets and writes about the substance with a frequency that would seem indelicate were she a man. Her Instagram handle is @cumcumcumcumcumcumcumcum.
The novel turns Wilder’s master class in disaffected online writing into a cohesive narrative about loss. Her prose is sharp yet loose, and it moves with a facility that one might expect of a much older writer. At times, it reads like she dashed off notes to herself at night, drunk before bed; at other times, like when she reproduces in whole an email from the narrator’s mother explaining in great detail the devastating physical consequences of brain cancer, it feels like you’re watching Wilder peel the skin off her own face. Wilder blurs the line between fact and fiction throughout the book, though the overall quality elevates the book past gossip and into the realm of art. The title alone, stolen from the last line of the book, is at once an exhortation, an expression of defeat and a minor grace note.
Wilder is Raymond Carver for the Twitter set, with less repression and more confession. Or maybe the better comparison would be to Renata Adler, whose novel Speedboat tells a narrative loosely constructed through anecdotes. Adler’s, we should say, are more filled with crushing beauty and less filled with beauty being crushed. Or maybe it’s more like if Jean Rhys was possessed by the time-travelling ghost of Tao Lin; like Lin, you can’t help but think in Wilder’s prose while you’re reading the book.
We conducted our conversation over Twitter DM (hence the erratic capitalization and punctuation), which was simultaneously appropriate and at times filled with miscommunications and misread intent. In a way, that friction felt appropriate to Wilder’s book.
I’m kind of unsure how to approach this because my feeling after reading the book is that I’m intimately acquainted with significant moments in your life. Do you think people after having read this book approach you differently?
i’m not sure. usually i’m too overwhelmed or uncomfortable that they read it. i’m also worried that people i know irl and from life feel obligated to read it, and i don’t want anyone to feel that way. i also don’t want anyone to begrudgingly read it, especially cuz there’s so much intense stuff. but yea i’m a bit concerned that people might make assumptions or projections based on the book and me, like there’s a big difference between them, huge difference, and i don’t think my life is the book and the book isn’t my life, but it was inspired by it. so i’d be bummed if people treated me differently
How were you able to get yourself to a place emotionally where you were ready to share this version of your life? Was it easier or harder because you were able to turn these really hard things into narrative?
well, i didn’t and don’t view it as sharing my life. i don’t view myself as the narrator or protagonist. the book is fiction, even if it’s inspired by real events. so i don’t view it as sharing my life, i view it as something i made. but i’m usually pretty open with sharing certain aspects of my life, like my past or whatever, because i can’t control what has already happened. sometimes it feels like not sharing it is hiding it, and hiding it feels like it is somehow bad. there’s a lot in the book that i think is traumatic, but not necessarily an event where anyone was at fault in a preventable way.
i kind of envision it on a dresser underneath a bunch of nail polish bottles, forgotten and covered in dust.
I don’t want to sound like i’m making a one-to-one equation of the book and your life, but the general tone of the writing is so confessional that the gap between darcie wilder, human being, and the narrator of your novel is seemingly something that needs teasing out. What was the process of using real things vs. fictional/purely narrative things?
well the line i’ve created is i never want to be in a situation where i’m explaining what did and didn’t happen in my life. both for privacy but also because i think it’s extraneous to the book.
i just think wondering about the fact/fiction line discredits the writing and turns into something more gossipy. like, i didn’t write the book so people would know more facts about me. i wrote the book because i was interested in certain tones and feelings, especially that of being overwhelmed and looking for respite or guidance. the title ‘literally show me a healthy person’ can also be read as searching for role model, or just someone that has something, or looking for a map and coming up short.
When you envision your book on a shelf, what two other books do you see it sitting between?
i kind of envision it on a dresser underneath a bunch of nail polish bottles, forgotten and covered in dust. or fallen behind the bookshelf, also covered in dust
That sounds like you’re saying you wrote the book so people would one day forget about it.
i just see it as floating around
Do you compare it or your own writing to other books, writers or traditions?
i think there’s a really long tradition in literature of playing with narrative. i don’t think my book is the first time anything like this has even happened. it feels unique to me but i can’t tell how because i’m too close to it
i do feel like there’s a similarity with joe brainard’s “i remember” and joe wenderoth’s “letters to wendy’s,” but as a novel
What book made you want to write or made you realize it was possible?
i always wanted to write. for some reason i’m thinking of joe meno’s 'hairstyles of the damned’ when i read it in ninth grade. also letters to wendy’s and al burian zines.
You worked on the book for five years. Wwas there a breakthrough moment?
yeah, definitely. i think there were a few: when i wrote the first paragraph in 2012, then in 2014 when i organized the beginning pages for a piece in a social malpractice zine called 'humor and the abject,’ and then in 2015 when i realized it could be a whole book that was just that style.
What was your editing process like? Is this a writing style that happens naturally or is it more produced than it initially seems?
i had to read through the whole thing a lot because there aren’t any chapters. and because i had written the whole thing in spurts and bits, i had a huge file that was like, everything i had written in the past few years, and i’d arrange where things should go, when things should return. i feel like some people think that because i didn’t use conventional styling, it wasn’t heavily edited, but it was.
Yeah, it seems really carefully constructed in sections but also completely free at other times, like with the intentional misspellings.
yeah. the misspellings and a lot of the structure, like the last sentence, are kind of working within the idea that you can grasp something about someone by the way they type or w/e, almost like handwriting. like peoples’ text or email styles is communicating something about their personality, and i don’t think it’s possible to convey those differences with a conventionally punctuated novel, because that’s not how people write.
This is a book that deals pretty extensively with the trauma that resulted from your mother’s death. What was it like to fictionalize that level of emotional pain?
for me, writing, whether fiction or not, is always about remembering the real feelings that underscored a specific time and place and event that really happened to me. whether the story is the same narrative as what i’m writing isn’t the point, it’s remembering the feeling that’s true to me and allowing me to speak from that feeling. it’s really relevant around grief, which is so physical and often everpresent and memorable. it’s also because the story is trying to communicate feelings, so i’m feeling what i’m trying to communicate. some of my friends write to share their thesis or opinion, or view art as their soapbox to show how they think the world is, which would make me feel like i’m writing propaganda. cuz i’m more interested in the dialogue between different ways of living and feeling and to let that be the legs - that seems more true to how i think.
I’m trying to think of the right way to phrase this. Do you find yourself consciously pakcaging your thoughts in a way that makes them appetizing to twitter or is it more stream of consciousness?
both my sentences in the book and on twitter are thought through and constructed to be read, they’re not stream of consciousness at all.
It’s so interesting because I feel like the technique is incredibly intentional but the effect is very much like sitting on a subway next to a person or something.
yeah, i try to keep it casual and easy to read, something that wants to be read
i think there are really dumb antiqued ways of thinking about writing, like the idea that style or tone would dictate how much time or intention someone put into something, or if it would lessen the strength of the book
so im doing a lot of clearing up about that. like ppl … idk
Read an excerpt of her novel here.