I have often wondered how progressive – if at all – the social-media platforms are to human society. The concept of posting quickly something for all the world to judge before even giving some thought to what exactly we are doing is a frightening one. And that is one of the brilliant concepts that Charles Foran explores in his novel Planet Lolita.
Fifteen silent minutes later, climbing the slope, Mom finally spit out her complaint. “You told them your name?” she said to me.
“Look,” Dad said.
Tai Long Wan lay half in sunlight, half still in shade. It was perfect, the most beautiful, secluded strand in Hong Kong. Three speedboats the size of plastic toys had rounded the headland and were ripping seams in the ocean. They slowed nearing the shore, their engines the faint growls of dogs letting you know they’ll attack if you don’t back off.
“Come to collect their cargo,” he said.
“Their property, more like it.”
“We’re off the beach, Leah. Our tracks will have dissolved by mid-morning.”
“You told them your name?” she said again.
Friend me, Mary, I said to myself. I’ll accept. And made the Asian-girl wave, in plain sight of both parents, although there was no hope she could see it from so far away.
Foran has created an interesting plot around his teenage protagonist Xixi Kwok. While camping on a beach outside Hong Kong, she and her parents witness a group of strange women washing ashore. Xixi tries to friend one of them (whom she refers as Mary) and photographs her with her cell phone. Later on Xixi tries to find Mary online – thinking she needs help – and gets herself in trouble.
A Google image search of “Mary, Tai Long Wan” opened onto a row of the third photo I had uploaded from my iPhone nine days ago. Was the image that dirty? Did a pretend-pouty expression and a real wet dress turn Mary into porn? I remember her posing on the beach, the hat reversed to hide the pins. It was fun. I’d felt happier at that moment than at any time, pretty much, since Rachel went away. I couldn’t get my sister back unto next spring, at the earliest – she’d already ruled out a Christmas visit, preferring to mooch off the grandparents in Richmond Hill – but maybe I could hang with Mary instead? At least we were in the same city.
I clicked onto each of the photos. One linked to a travel agency specializing in Asian beach holidays. Another site sold sun hats offering to ship them for free anywhere in the world. The third, prettyasiangirls.com, showed a high school yearbook of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Filipino teenagers, most in school uniforms. Girls volunteered their photos for posting including a few who went to East Island. The fourth click too me to datingasiangirls.org, which claimed to be “the best singles bar on the web.” After that was a link to teenagepussy.com. It uploaded a blue screen with WARNING: ADULT CONTENT and a request that the viewer confirm he or she was eighteen. My final click on the photo led to the URL exploitedasianteens.com, a title I couldn’t decipher for a second – exploited, Asian, and teens. This website gave no warning and asked no one’s age. Instantly I was staring at naked girls having sex with men, sometimes tow of them, or with other girls, and framed in the middle was a still from a video titled Three Dicks for a Filipino Chick that lasted 21:40 and had been awarded four stars out of five. Several minutes passed before I clicked the X on my toolbar and shut it down. My eyes stayed open the entire time.
Other reviewers have complained that this plot is too disjointed or too nonlinear making the story hard to follow but I have to disagree. Foran displays the mind of a 15-year-old teenager well by writing in this story in this style. Xixi life is bombarded by text messages and digital signals that her thoughts are random and bounced around. Adding to her distractions is the impending collapse of her parents marriage and the spread of a infectious disease around Hong Kong and the stress of Xixi is clearly pulling her mind in different directions.
“Our daughter said those things?”
“Technically, she texted them. Sorry, Xixi,” Dad said. “Sorry to be doing this in front of you.”
Me (to him): Better than me hiding in Rachel’s old room
Checking his screen, he nodded, his smile closer to a wince. Dad sat on one couch, Mom on the other. In between them I curled in an armchair, chin on my knees.
“Am I fuckable yet?” Mom said, quoting the text I had sent to Rachel. ” And then you asked Gloria how many holes you have for sex?”
Me (to her): Rachel told you? Gloria told you?
Her phone buzzed.
“There’s no chance I will read your message with you sitting right here. I see you texting it! You’re not invisible.”
Me (to her): I thought I was
“Sarah!” she said, ignoring the incoming texts. “Are you truly still not getting it, darling? The implications of the video sent to my iPhone earlier this morning are terrifying. These people are now stalking you, and threatening to abduct you if you won’t stop. I had no choice but to involve the police. Even your father, who would much prefer to keep his head in the sand, or elsewhere agrees. Right, Jacob?”
Me (to her): Why stay with him, if he’s such a jerk?
“Give me that phone,” Mom added.
I am a firm believer that Planet Lolita by Charles Foran must be read and savoured in a print format. Foran has documented well the confusing circumstances of the human condition in the digital age in this book and by carefully read it do we grasp the situation around us.