“Quick, Henry, the Flit!”: A Review of Jarett Kobek’s I Hate the Internet

Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon first appeared as a serialization in Black Mask magazine, starting in September, 1929. One of the best-known advertising catch phrases of the time (it had debuted in 1928) was “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” Accompanied by art by Theodor Geisel (later famous as Dr. Suess), Flit ads showed outrageous insects about to attack. Flit was a spray insecticide containing, among other things, DDT.

Hammett used the name Charles Flitcraft for a character in a story within the story, one told by detective Sam Spade to the novel’s femme fatale in chapter 7. Hammett describes the telling:

He talked in a steady matter-of-fact voice that was devoid of emphasis or pauses, though now and then he repeated a sentence slightly rearranged, as if it were important that each detail be related exactly as it had happened.

At the beginning Brigid O’Shaughnessy listened with only partial attentiveness, obviously more surprised by his telling the story than interested in it, her curiosity more engaged with his purpose in telling the story than with the story he told; but presently, as the story went on, it caught her more and more fully and she became still and receptive.

This is precisely the way Jarett Kobek imagines himself as writer and the reaction of his reader (actually, it is precisely what any writer wants for her work, or his). But on with the story:

Flitcraft had been a good citizen and a good husband and father, not by any outer compulsion, but simply because he was a man who was most comfortable in step with his surroundings. He had been raised that way. The people he knew were like that. The life he knew as a clean orderly and responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life as none of these things.

Flitcraft left a life in one city, after nearly being killed, only to recreate it in another, changing his last name from Flitcraft to Pierce, another interesting choice by Hammett (philosopher Charles Pierce is seen as the founder of American Pragmatism; his work was familiar to the novelist).

This extremely non-cinematic story is the only major piece of Hammett’s novel left out of John Huston’s 1941 film version. Among other things, the story is Spade’s way of telling O’Shaughnessy that he knows she will never change, that her basic nature as deadly con-artist and manipulator of men will come out again—with him getting the short end of the stick if he goes in with her too deeply.

The point is made in other ways in the movie, but it is too bad that Flitcraft had to go.

That said, to the subject at hand: I Hate the Internet is an enjoyable book—at the very worst. And the fact that author Jarett Kobek understands full well Hammett’s Flitcraft episode has nothing to do with it.

Except when it does.

One of Kobek’s characters is Ellen Flitcraft of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (a real place). “She had a dream about someone falling from a high platform and cracking their skull. It was a clean break beneath the skin, running vertically from the forehead to the jaw.” As a result of someone posting onto the internet photos of her performing oral sex, “Ellen was twenty-two years old and her life was over.”

Six months later, Flitcraft visits San Francisco and is nearly run over by a car—which does smash down another woman. Once she regains her composure, Flitcraft realizes, “Life wasn’t an either/or proposition. Life was both random death and decades of suffering. Life was a trickle of days that dripped away with no meaning and no purpose.” Meaning? You tell me.

Did I say I Hate the Internet is enjoyable? Actually, it is remarkable. The character based on the author himself is J. Karacehennem, “whose last name was Turkish for Black Hell.” It’s a story of contemporary  (2013, to be specific) San Francisco, but Karacehennem, at the end, like Flitcraft, does a geographic, removing himself to Los Angeles after a rant from atop Twin Peaks, a rant that, perhaps, sums up the author’s own attitudes toward contemporary life.

The main character is a comic-book artist named Adeline who, we are told on the first page, “had committed the only unforgivable sin of the early Twenty-First Century.” The book ends with a tweet addressed to her: “Bitch… im cumin 2 kill u… in San Francisco… ” In between, we readers, as still and receptive as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, have the chance to learn some of the most important truths (or not truths, but what may be or should be or just aren’t) of our internet-beholden lives. That we probably won’t, as O’Shaughnessy doesn’t, is probably irrelevant.

Or maybe relevant.

The subtitle of the book, “A Useful Novel against Men, Money, and the Filth of Instagram” may sound tongue-in-cheek.

It is not.

Read for yourself. The publisher, after all, is “We Heard You Like Books.”

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