Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte

Private Citizens by Tony TulathimuttePrivate Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on February 9, 2016
Pages: 384
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours for review consideration.
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From a brilliant new literary talent comes a sweeping comic portrait of privilege, ambition, and friendship in millennial San Francisco. With the social acuity of Adelle Waldman and the murderous wit of Martin Amis, Tony Tulathimutte’s Private Citizens is a brainy, irreverent debut—This Side of Paradise for a new era.
Capturing the anxious, self-aware mood of young college grads in the aughts, Private Citizens embraces the contradictions of our new century: call it a loving satire. A gleefully rude comedy of manners. Middlemarch for Millennials. The novel's four whip-smart narrators—idealistic Cory, Internet-lurking Will, awkward Henrik, and vicious Linda—are torn between fixing the world and cannibalizing it. In boisterous prose that ricochets between humor and pain, the four estranged friends stagger through the Bay Area’s maze of tech startups, protestors, gentrifiers, karaoke bars, house parties, and cultish self-help seminars, washing up in each other’s lives once again. 
A wise and searching depiction of a generation grappling with privilege and finding grace in failure, Private Citizens is as expansively intelligent as it is full of heart.

Private Citizens is Tulathimutte’s debut novel about four 20-something millennials in San Francisco, dealing with the post-college years. It contains very specific social commentary relevant to today’s society, rather than generalized comments on human nature. There’s a lot of depth and interest to its satire, which manages to remain fresh and thoughtful throughout the novel.

I was especially struck by Henrik’s realization that the connections he had with other people were mostly superficial:

“Even total honesty didn’t remain true for long, nor, if he was honest, did it mean anyone would understand or care. He wanted to say he was miserable, jobless, and frightened, but the best [Cory] could do for him was to treat him as if he weren’t, so there was no point in saying so.”

My only complaint is, I didn’t feel like I had enough background information on the friendship these four had formed during college. Their interactions seemed casual, never running very deep. I didn’t have much to go on, so the ending felt out of place and detached. Overall this was a great look into each character as an individual, but I never felt for them as a group.

As I was reading, I was reminded of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings [my review]Private Citizens is just as character-driven, so if you thought The Interestings “wasn’t very interesting,” you might not enjoy this one, either. Tulathimutte’s characters are either full of ennui or overflowing with zealous enthusiasm (in this case, activism)—but overall this book is edgier, more impolite, and definitely ironic. This is a fast, enjoyable read that tends to voice what many of us think, but are maybe too afraid (or polite!) to say.



Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the tour page and see what other readers thought about this book!

  • This one sounds completely interesting to me! I loved The Interestings (and Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P) and am a sucker for satirical social commentary. Adding to my TBR!

  • I struggle with satire at times because I feel like it’s too wound up in being clever to be truly thoughtful so I’m glad to see you say, “There’s a lot of depth and interest to its satire, which manages to remain fresh and thoughtful throughout the novel.”

  • This sounds really interesting. Was the superficial nature of the group bond supposed to be a comment on modern friendships? Or do you think it’s just an oversight?

    • That’s very possible! But then the ending feels even more out of place. Like a friendship version of insta-love.

  • HeatherTLC

    I know I’m certainly too polite to say many of the things I think! LOL

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.