“The Authenticity Project” gets its title from a notebook a lonely old man leaves behind. As he searches for authenticity in a world full of lies, he begins by writing his own truth in the pages of a notebook. In return, he only asks for one thing: that the reader who finds the authenticity project writes their own truth. And maybe then we can be more honest with each other.
“The Authenticity Project” is a successful attempt by Clare Pooley to show how isolated we all are. While we uniquely find ourselves physically isolated in real time, Clare Pooley brings to light that many of us hide behind facades: from our misleading social media personalities to our carefully conveyed daily dispositions. The characters Pooley dreams up emphasize the extent to which we are separated; however, with an enticing plot, Pooley shows just how easy it is for us to reconnect.
Pooley uses a unique structure to introduce the characters. The authenticity project is first left behind by Julian Jessop, its creator, in a small cafe. Monica, the owner of the cafe, is the first to find the notebook and read Julian’s story. Following suit with the project, Monica writes her own truth before leaving it in another location. The man to pick it up becomes our third character, and so on.
The unique structure allows for the profound immersion of each distinct character: Julian, the creator of the authenticity project, is a lonely but fierce artist whose persona lights up the pages; Monica, who first finds the authenticity project, is a strict but caring woman; Hazard, the proceeding reader, is a man whose name perfectly sums him up. The book moves on to include several other specific characters who appear to clash more than coincide.
However, as the characters read each other’s secret personal stories, they routinely find that they can relate. It was humanizing to see how such clearly different characters, each with different priorities and interests, could relate to each other, and even more humanizing to see the effort of each person to help the other out.
In light of current events, it is easy to get lost in the chaos of news cycles and mandates and global statistics. Of course it is important to stay updated on the global pandemic, but it can be incredibly draining to read about it, let alone for those who are experiencing it in more intrusive ways. Yet, a glimmer of positivity has emerged from the pandemic in how strongly people — specifically strangers — have cared for one another: when an airline threw a mini-graduation for onboard seniors, when New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees donated $5 million to Louisiana, and when little kids posting their drawings to their windows to spread joy.
The willingness of strangers to help each other out is continuously explored within the novel: We see the characters go distances (some in a literal sense) to help one another. Most of the characters spilled their struggles and trauma onto the pages of the notebook, feeling that the cathartic process was comforting enough. Yet, as they go on their own missions to help previous writers, all fail to realize that someone is looking out for them, too.
Though I appreciated the book providing a distraction from our disorderly world, as the project touched more characters, I felt them becoming more and more stereotypical in contrast to the original people Pooley had introduced: Alice, a young mother who enters later in the novel, is described as overly emotional and obsessed with her appearance, and Riley, a young traveler, is continuously applauded for his sensitivity by the other characters who seem shocked that a man could behave in such a way.
These stereotypes, among others, slow the acceleration of the novel as the plot becomes increasingly predictable and tame. My initial expectations for the characters’ interactions began to settle in, which was upsetting given that Pooley had spent the first half of the novel rejecting these expectations and creating such an unanticipated, immersive plot.
However, though I wish it had come sooner, Pooley spices the storyline up again right as the novel comes to a close. She writes a strong ending that does the characters justice without being powerful enough for me to forgive the stereotypes and lack of authenticity Pooley employs throughout the second half.
Overall, “The Authenticity Project” was a good read in its ability to remind me of the positivity I can find now. Despite our isolation, we will always be connected to each other. It is up to us to figure out how.