Book review by Ashley Kalagian Blunt

Ashley Kalagian Blunt’s third book and first novel plunges the reader headfirst into the plot. On her morning run, Reagan Carsen discovers the dismembered body of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to her. Reagan struggles through several moments of indecision before fleeing the scene for reasons revealed to readers in the opening chapters.

Reagan, a Luddite out of necessity, has built a cocoon for herself: no smartphone, no social media presence, nothing easily discovered about her online. This clandestine behavior is reflected in her offline life. Her front door is dead bolted, she parks a few blocks from home and is always alert for “the crunch of gravel, the creak of a car door,” and her only friend is bestselling author Min-lee Chasse. Reagan has been successfully hiding from someone for five years, but her discovery of a dead double leads her to believe she has been found.

Ashley Kalagian Blunt shows how women's lives can be seamlessly and completely infiltrated.

Ashley Kalagian Blunt shows how women’s lives can be seamlessly and completely infiltrated.
Credit:Marnya Rothe

As more and more women are murdered in Sydney in the same manner as the 1947 unsolved death of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles, infamously known as the Black Dahlia case, Reagan’s world begins to unravel. Your inbox is flooded with threatening emails. Every man in her life, from her banker to a customer in a navy jacket who visits the plant shop she owns and runs, is viewed through an increasingly wary lens.

A cascading series of inexplicable incidents coalesce to make her feel like she’s in free fall, as if “her reality gaslights her and certainties crumble into question marks.” And even though everyone around her is urging her to go to the police, Reagan has good reasons for not wanting to.

It is no coincidence that the physical violence against women unfolds with the digital and image-based sexual violence experienced by Reagan. All come from the manosphere. The resolution of one of the crimes is more satisfying than the other, but what becomes apparent is that the two are interconnected.

Dark Mode by Ashley Kalagian Blunt.

Dark Mode by Ashley Kalagian Blunt.

Kalagian Blunt has made a chilling psychological thriller about the cost of being a woman when misogynists have increasingly sophisticated technology at their fingertips and an unparalleled ability to connect with like-minded people in illicit corners of the dark web. She is fluent in the language of incels: doxxing, deepfakes, and swatting are routinely used to punish and destroy women, dehumanizing terms like “foid” are used to describe them, and pop culture terms like “red pill” have become common used. chose to describe men awakening to the so-called reality of their subjection to women.

In one of the more confrontational sections of the book, readers are privy to missives written on a dark web forum that describe one man’s systematic mission to hunt down “targets,” make them fall in love with him, and psychologically destroying them from online abuse and harassment through an elaborate campaign. That the resulting feelings in women are internalized shame and a desire to withdraw from online life is the intended effect.

That’s how effective it is at depicting how women’s lives can be so seamlessly and completely infiltrated Dark mode that traditional forms of stalking, on the other hand, seem almost odd. Although the book’s blurb emphasizes “the price we pay for giving up our privacy with one click,” what happens to Reagan happens despite her incredible offline life. Book review by Ashley Kalagian Blunt

Jaclyn Diaz

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