I first encountered Lexi Freiman’s work in a workshop at Columbia University. She had written a short story about a woman in a shifting, phantasmagoric relationship with a man whom the narration treated at some times as a nemesis and at others as a luminous object of desire. One scene from that story, where the female protagonist tends to her lover’s clogged pores while cycling through states of adoration and fear, will stick in my mind until the day my mind ends. Though I’m not even sure that Lexi remembers that story or my visceral, enthusiastic reaction to it, the piece is a perfect example of what I find most interesting about her work: its creativity, its dextrous and controlled use of surprise, its willingness to peer deeply into the realm of the improper. In her debut novel, Inappropriation, Lexi tells the story of Ziggy, a misfit teen at a swanky Australian private school whose search for identity leads her to New Agey communes and right-wing chat rooms and a series of increasingly problematic decisions. We sat down recently—at separate computers in separate places—to discuss, over email, cyborgs and teenagers and the risky rewards of satire.
One thing that really stands out about your novel is its sense of humor, its willingness to poke fun. These days, it’s common to say that our political moment is so outlandish that it’s impossible to satirize—at times it feels like there’s an entirely new genre of think piece focused on the difficulties of comedians and comedy writers trying to take on the Trump administration. And yet your book succeeds at being both tremendously contemporary and savagely funny, a bit of fresh air. What moved you to write a satirical novel? What do we gain when we view our world through a humorous lens?
I actually started writing the book just before politics got really absurd, during the end of Obama’s presidency. I’ve always been drawn to satire—to framing things in a way that makes their inherent absurdity visible—and identity politics was emerging then as a dominant ideology on the Left. The way social media distorted identity politics made the whole cultural moment feel ripe for satire in the conventional sense—as a critique of power. Of course, this sounds counterintuitive, as identity politics is all about giving voice and agency to the marginalized. And in a sense, that’s what interested me about it—that there was this powerful political movement seemingly beyond critique and allergic to humor, and it felt as if questioning any aspect of it was somehow immoral. I wanted to examine the problems of a sacrosanct ideology and of identity itself. Even once Trump was elected, the project remained satirically viable, especially as the Left controls culture and the arts. Read More