T. C. Boyle’s “Blue Skies”: Influencers and Snakes

In T. C. Boyle’s intriguing new novel, Blue Skies, one of the characters, Cat, a bored young woman living in Florida, wants to become an influencer.  Cat is lonely because her fiancé travels for his job, she drinks too much at bars, wishes she were back in California, and yearns to build a following on social media.   

And then one day she stops at Herps, a shop that sells snakes, and buys a Burmie, i.e., a python, thinking she can wear it like an accessory.  And.  yes, when she posts photos of herself with the snake, she gets hundreds of likes, which makes her feel good about herself. She would love to be discovered and given a chance to sell other things.  But the one thing doesn’t seem to follow the other.  Snakes are apparently her thing.

I am halfway through this fascinating novel,  and I’m worried about Cat, who is not the most responsible person.  I’m scared to death of this snake.  So should Cat be. But we readers have some information about that snake – and I am praying it doesn’t get loose.

This funny, sad, satiric novel, set in the age of climate change, revolves around Cat and her family, who are dealing with climate disasters on both coasts. Cat’s family is in California, where her brother, Cooper,  an entomologist, is bitten by a tick while doing field research.  His arm gets infected and must be amputated.  Their charming mother, Ottilie, who is worried sick about Cooper, took on many eco-projects Cooper assigned her even before he got sick, largely to boost his ego:  there was a cricket farm and then he brought  her  a hive of bees.  Ottilie used to be the administer of her doctor husband’s office, but now she is retired, and Frank works harder than he used to because his new administrative assistant is still learning the system.

Before I leave I want to say a few words about influencers.  First, what are they?  Since I do not watch Kim Kardashian, who I understand is an influencer, I do not understand the concept. 

In the much smaller world of bookish social media, I do recognize a few influencers. For instance, Miranda Mills, a vlogger on Youtube, talks about middlebrow women’s fiction, vintage books, bookstores, and baking cakes and muffins; and Jen Campbell, a poet and book vlogger who does a lot of “book hauls,” is also very popular.  Both vloggers recently touted a special reading lamp, which we can get a discount on with a special code.  I was startled to see both women doing informal commercials in the body of their vlogs. But then I seldom watch vlogs, so this is probably the status quo.

And yet being an influencer must be walking a slippery slope.  I’ve bought many books recommended by vloggers, and though I did not actually need a Penguin hardcover edition of Sanditon, I have no regrets.  But if I have to start resisting special reading lamps as well as books, where will it all end?

I must go leave a bunch of “likes” to show my appreciation for their bookish content!

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