Matt Meets Vik, by Timothy Willis Sanders. Civil Coping Mechanisms. 164 pages. $13.95, paper.
Matt Meets Vik is probably the second novel I have read that is post-9/11. It is also the first novel I have read that has recognized the existence of Nokia phones. By the time those things came around, I believe I was still in elementary school. My memory of them was vague. The events of September 11, 2001, seem to lurk in the background of this novel, and every time I read a story that takes place during this time, characters seem to be confused and frustrated with their existence.
September 11 seems to have reminded all of the characters in Matt Meets Vik that we are our own destruction, humans fighting violence with more violence. Each person reacts differently as a result of their anger. In this case, it’s confusion as to what is actually going on, and no one even seems to be thinking of the potential murder of innocents at the hands of nukes. Take this passage, for example:
Matt said, “Kind of. I saw something the other day about the war.”
Lonnie said, “Yeah, Iraq.”
Matt said, “Iraq. So weird.” He imagined helicopters firing missiles at men drinking tea.
Lonnie said, “We should just nuke the whole goddamn thing.”
Matt looked at Lonnie’s pupils and said, “Yeah?”
Lonnie said, “We’re there liberating them, and those people are ungrateful, and killing our guys, so yeah, blow the shit up.” Matt watched Lonnie make a mushroom cloud with his fingers. Lonnie said, “Saddam can’t hide from a nuke,” and smiled.
Timothy Willis Sanders shows that watching political talks with silent contemplating or venting with friends does nothing for anyone. There’s mostly blaming the authority or political figures, because we look up and expect them to defend us. But instead, all the characters are exposed to are lies, with nobody stepping up to help pull the country out of hysteria:
Matt pictured George Bush and switched to MSNBC. He saw Chris Matthews and thought, “No way we can elect this guy again?” He heard Chris Matthews say, “swift boat,” and thought, “Man, just telling lies.”
The violence constantly present throughout serves as an ideal backdrop for the characters’ existential crises. With them, readers will feel themselves degenerate into a sort of monster willing to kill others simply for wasting too much time in a place and era where hatred and war are still very much alive.
Matt Meets Vik‘s main focus is on the ups and downs of a relationship—the constant questioning of whether or not Matt really loves Vik. And all of this ties with not only himself, but the rising of advancing technology and an obsession with drugs:
Matt said, “I had a dream tornadoes were chasing me. I read that means confusion in your life, and thought, ‘I don’t love her.’” He heard his heartbeat and thought, “You do!”
The book also explores our constant distraction at the hands of pretty gadgets—often to the point where we sort of forget ourselves. This “technology is destroying humanity” theme could be seen as redundant, but Sanders finds ways to explore it through our newfound hyperawareness of everybody’s tragedies, of all this constant information flowing into our brains. Through this, Matt begins to recognize how flawed we all are. There will be nothing that will redeem or forgive us fully, Sanders seems to argue, and Matt’s image of and love for Vik starts to dwindle after finding out about her drug habits:
Matt thought, “You don’t love her,” and lowered his head toward the sink. He moved his fingers over his stubble. He sat on the toilet and put his chin between his knees. He looked at a curly black hair on the tile floor. He remembered Vik pointing to his curly black hair and saying, “Curly Qs.” Matt thought, “I can’t believe she did it again,” and flushed the toilet. He looked at his face in the mirror and thought, “What the fuck.”
Matt Meets Vik, at first, reminded me a lot of Tao Lin’s Shoplifting at American Apparel through its mentions of colors and constant observations and thoughts thrown in between bits of dialogue:
Matt started the Isuzu Trooper. He remembered Dr. Wong saying, “We found nothing. Your test is clean.” He saw seven Mexican men at the bus stop. He looked at their white clothes and thought, “I guess I should be happy.” He pictured Vik’s red hair and thought, “Yes. At least.”
Both books character-driven, and both use the same writing style, but Matt Meets Vik is a lot more loveable for me. It is less satirical and contains more self-loathing. It is more vibrant and less monotonous in its woes about a boring, pointless existence.
The novel’s constant fluctuating emotions also remind me of Osamu Dazai’s Schoolgirl, a novella that manages to perfectly weed out the thoughts of a growing preteen girl. Matt’s thoughts and observations are quite humorous, relatable at times for a person my age. One of my favorites is:
Matt said, “I just think you’re going to find someone else,” into the pillow. He imagined setting fire to himself and the hotel burning down.
It is a really horrendous thing to say to yourself, but the novel reminds me of all of those nights spent thinking of all the embarrassing things I did the previous years before. Matt Meets Vik is very much like all of the thoughts we have at our lowest moments and during the times where the only comfort we have is an app on the phone.
Lixian Ng is a college student in New Jersey. She is a book blogger and is a little obsessed with literature. She writes in her spare time, whenever her brain feels like exploding, to relieve it.