THE BOOK OF FORMATION, BY ROSS SIMONINI
Ross Simonini’s The Book of Formation deftly interrogates how we become who we are. The book examines two charismatic talk-show hosts, Mayah and Masha Isle, who popularize a philosophy known as the “personality movement,” which represses both personalities and memories in exchange for new ones. Through interviews with Masha conducted by an anonymous journalist-narrator and intermittent sections of prose, the book scrutinizes the ethics of the movement as both Mayah and Masha prey on their gullible followers, and later allow their practices to take ominous turns. Though the narrator is skeptical of the movement at first, his fascination with it intensifies as his health deteriorates. As doctor after doctor is unable to properly diagnose him, he finds himself seeing the movement in a new light, and eventually chooses to partake in it.
The novel pivots between moments of hilarity and the bizarre as Masha adopts new personalities, becoming an infamous cultural figure who suffers from borderline megalomania. At its core, the world Simonini crafts is riddled with believers who mirror America’s present state of vulnerability, and susceptibility to being coaxed by grandiose figures. Ultimately, this original and thought-provoking debut questions whether our obsession with how we as Americans portray ourselves is problematic or inherently human.