By David Canfield
May 29, 2019 at 12:00 PM EDT
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Courtesy Megan Angelo

Looking for a scathing, razor-sharp take on the future of humanity and social media? Meet Followers.

Megan Angelo’s debut novel, acquired competitively in a six-figure deal by publisher Graydon House, is already generating praise from the likes of Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson, who says, “If anyone is going to explore a future version of our high-tech, internet-obsessed culture, please let it be Megan Angelo. Followers is pure gold.” The book follows two best friends with dreams of literary fame who abandon all pretense of ethics to become big names on social media, and who succeed.

Followers then pushes the action 35 years itno the future, in a closed California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on camera, a woman named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Despite her massive popularity ― 12 million loyal followers ― Marlow dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything, even horrible things, to keep her on-screen. When she learns that her whole family history is a lie, Marlow finally summons the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks. How does this connect to the story of the friends, exactly? You’ll have to read to find out.

Angelo has shared with EW the eerie cover for Followers, as well as a first excerpt. Read on below. Followers publishes Jan. 14 and is available for pre-order.

Graydon House

Excerpt from Followers, by Megan Angelo

CHAPTER THREE

Orla
New York, New York

2015

The red carpet Ingrid sent Orla to was at a terrible club on a terrible block. Bits of trash stuck to the filthy red carpet slapped down at its entrance. A bouncer stood at the doorway, staring straight ahead, as if trying to block out the Container Store directly to his right.

Orla scanned the ground and found her place, a square of sidewalk the size of a cereal box, marked with a laminated printout: ORLA CADDEN, LADY-ISH.COM. She elbowed her way in next to an anxious waif who wore a gown that plunged to her belly button. She was dressed, Orla knew, like she was hoping to be invited inside later. A chubby Hispanic guy in horn-rimmed glasses held his phone up to the waif, filming her as she said: “We’re here at the launch of Hilaria Dahl’s dog sweater line, and all the hottest celebrity animal lovers have tuned out for the occasion.”

Turned out!” Horn-rimmed Glasses shrieked as if he had just caught fire.

Hilaria Dahl was a judge on a reality show that pitted cancer survivors against each other in baking contests. By the time she made her way to Orla, Hilaria had submitted to eighteen other interviews, and the corners of her mouth were caked with spit. She smacked her lips together. “I love Lady-ish!” she squealed, her long earrings jangling at either side of her jaw.

Orla nodded and stretched her face into a smile. “So, dog clothes! What inspired this project?”

Hilaria shifted in her heels. “Well, it’s really close to my heart.”

“What is?” Orla said.

“AIDS,” Hilaria answered.

“AIDS?” Orla looked to Hilaria’s publicist, a black-clad woman in a headset.

“Ten percent of the proceeds from the line benefits AIDS,” the publicist snapped.

“And I love animals,” Hilaria added. “I loved the idea of putting my name on something that would keep them warm, the way they keep us warm.”

Next to Orla, the waif was nodding fiercely, a hand pressed over her heart.

“We’re just targeting dogs right now,” Hilaria went on. “But I’m also really passionate about cats. So we’re looking to expand into the cat market as well.”

Orla couldn’t stop herself. “Couldn’t cats just wear the clothes you make now?”

Hilaria looked at her publicist. “I guess cats could wear the small ones, right?” she said uncertainly. “Like the alpaca cowl-neck?”

“Cats could wear the small ones,” the publicist confirmed, glaring.

“And every piece is one hundred percent vegan!” Hilaria shouted.

“Didn’t you just say something’s alpaca?” Orla said. “An alpaca is an animal. It’s kind of like a llama.”

“That’s all the time she has,” the publicist said, taking Hilaria by the elbow and guiding her toward the doors. She looked back at Orla. “Fuck you,” she said plainly. “Not you,” she added, into the headset. “But maybe you, soon, if you don’t find out where Isabelle went.”

There was a lull in the arrivals. The waif was complaining to Horn-rimmed Glasses, claiming her improv teacher had called her too pretty for comedy, when Horn-rimmed Glasses waved his hand in her face and bellowed, “GIRL SHUT THE FUCK UP HERE SHE COMES.”

Orla perked up and craned her neck toward the SUV that had just pulled up. Hilaria’s publicist had likely emailed Ingrid already, demanding that Orla apologize. Maybe Orla could redeem herself with a quote from whoever was making Horn-rimmed Glasses clap tiny, overjoyed claps.

Flashbulbs popped so brightly that Orla had to look down. Then she could only see the pair of legs coming toward them, oiled and deliberate. Next to her, the waif leaned forward and said breathlessly, “Floss, it’s like the hugest honor.”

Standing in front of the waif, Orla saw as bursts of light cleared her vision, was her own roommate. Florence.

Orla stared at her from the side. She was closer to Florence now than she had ever been in their apartment. The skin that ran from her ear to the corner of her mouth shimmered with such pearlescence that Orla could see her own shadow in it. Florence’s eyes, dark and liquid, blinked slowly, sleepily, beneath the weight of her thousand-legger eyelashes. She had more hair than she did at home, and they were laughably bad, the extensions—limp, and shiny, and stinking of something chemical. Florence had on the same things Orla wore on formal occasions: a strapless, nude bra and stomach-slimming nude panties that continued down the thigh. But Florence wasn’t wearing anything over them.

She was beautiful, the type of beautiful that made Orla wish that she knew more of Florence’s bad qualities, so she could soothe herself by listing them out loud.

Then, suddenly, Florence was air-kissing the waif goodbye and stepping into Orla’s little space. “Hi,” Florence trilled. Orla startled at the sound of her public voice. It came from somewhere high in her nose. “Oh,” Florence went on, “I love Lady-ish.”

“Florence,” Orla said.

“Call me Floss!” Florence giggled. She pulled all of her hair over one shoulder and stroked it like a pet.

They were at an impasse: Floss didn’t recognize Orla, and Orla didn’t know who Floss was supposed to be. As Orla tried to decide what to say next, Floss’s publicist—she had a publicist!—jumped in.

“Jordie from Liberty PR,” he said. “You of course know Floss Natuzzi from the reality competition Who Wants to Work at a Surf Shack.” His voice had a defeated sort of hum, like he no longer got up in the morning hoping people would take him seriously. Orla could envision the half-finished law school application on his desk at home. “She’s also a fixture on the Akron fashion scene,” Jordie added, “where until recently she lived with Columbus Blue Jackets star Wynn Walters.”

“The Athens fashion scene?” Orla said.

“Sure, let’s go with that,” Jordie sighed, at the same time Floss said loudly, “No, Akron. Akron, Ohio.”

Jordie shot Floss a look, then laughed and threw his hands up. “Yes, Akron,” he said wearily. “It’s mostly, ah, underground. Very avant-garde. LeBron James…” He trailed off purposefully. It wasn’t a lie; he had merely said the words “LeBron James.” Orla nodded appreciatively. He would do well at law school.

She looked at Floss, who seemed not to be listening. She was peering down at the printout Orla was standing on, then back up at Orla’s face. As Jordie tugged her toward the next reporter, Floss seemed to realize something. “Wait,” she said, blinking, looking back. “Omigod.”

Orla waved at her stupidly.

“Come inside then,” Floss called over her shoulder. “I want to talk to you.” She tottered off on her heels. Orla watched as Jordie stepped forward to pull something off Floss’s wrist. It was Orla’s own yellow hair elastic. She had left it on the sink that morning.

“What, you know her?” Orla heard the waif say, sullenly. Out of some instinct, Orla didn’t respond. Floss was only the last to arrive at a party for dog shirts in Midtown, but she was clearly someone to someone, and she had told Orla to come inside. Orla didn’t have to talk to the waif anymore.

*

The girl at the door with the list was unimpressed. “I’m a personal guest of Floss Natuzzi’s,” Orla said again. “She’ll be so upset to hear about this.” The girl just looked behind her, waving someone forward. Orla stepped back to let an Afghan hound in a beret and its handler walk through.

She walked along Fifty-Seventh Street and found she could see into the event, which spilled into a courtyard fenced in by wrought iron. Floss was just a few yards away, talking to a short, sweaty man with his shirt buttons mostly undone.

Orla put her face to the bars and hissed into the party. “Floss!”

Floss looked up. She turned away from the man while he was still midsentence and came trotting over to Orla. “What are you doing? I said to come inside.”

“They wouldn’t let me,” Orla said. “Can you get me in?”

Floss looked down at Orla’s scuffed ballet flats and murmured, “Those, probably.” She took a glass of champagne from a waitress and slid it through a gap in the fence to Orla.

“You can’t—” the waitress began, and Floss fixed her with a cold smile. “Did they resolve the oyster situation yet?” she asked the waitress. “Would you please find Gus and find out? I’ll wait here.” The waitress scurried away.

“Who’s Gus?” The champagne glass felt so delicate in Orla’s grasp, she had to focus on not crushing it.

Floss rolled her eyes. “There’s no Gus.” She drained her champagne and motioned for Orla to drink hers down. “Wait there,” she said.

Three minutes later, Floss was walking toward Orla, one arm in the air, hailing a cab. When one stopped, she stood there blinking at it until Orla stepped forward and opened the door, then stepped back to let her in first.

Jordie skidded out of the club toward their cab, the soles of his needle-nosed shoes slipping on the pavement. He stuck his head through the window. “Where the hell are you going?” he said to Floss. “Do you know how I had to beg to get you into this party? You’re nobody, honey.” A drop of sweat eased out of a crease in his forehead and landed on Floss’s thigh, right where the nude shorts disappeared into the boot that stretched over her knee.

Floss dabbed at the mark. “If you had to beg that hard,” she said calmly, “I guess you’re nobody, too.”

The light turned green. As the cab pulled away, Orla glanced over her shoulder at Jordie. She thought he’d be staring after them, reeling from the exchange, but he was already back on his phone, skating toward the party.

Perhaps it was because Orla remembered how he looked from that distance—freckles you could sense a block away—that she recognized Jordie’s photo on the cover of the New York Post, more than a year later, while she was still walking toward it. She would never forget him. Nobody would. Jordie was the very first to die in the Spill. The story about his death didn’t mention his working with Floss, which surprised Orla at first. By then, even a minor interaction with Floss would be the starriest thing that had ever happened to most people, and any reporter with a brain and a LinkedIn login could have dug up Jordie’s connection. Then Orla remembered: the reporter who wrote about Jordie dying wouldn’t have been able to see his LinkedIn page—wouldn’t even have been able to Google him. The reporter must have had to rely on word of mouth and yearbooks. Jordie’s aunt was quoted as saying that he had just been accepted to law school. When Orla read that—her snarky prediction in print—she let out an actual howl, and crushed the paper in her hand. The newsstand attendant, who had been staring at the white grid on his useless, frozen phone screen, startled. “One dollar, you know?” he said to Orla. But he sounded scared, like he was only suggesting it. Orla dropped the paper and kept walking, kept crying. This was back when things had gotten as bad as everyone thought they would get, and when no one knew yet how bad things would actually go on to be. There were still jokes about the chaos on the late-night shows. There were still late-night shows.

*

When Orla and Floss got back to Twenty-First Street, the doorman grinned at them in a way that let Orla know they looked drunk, and the smile she gave back to him made her feel like she was someone else, someone used to being part of things. In the elevator, Orla reached for 6, but Floss batted her hand back and sent them to the roof. Orla hadn’t been up on the roof since a few weeks after she moved to the city. She had gone up there one night with a book and a glass of warm white wine, because she was twenty-two and didn’t know to chill it yet. The roof was a disappointment. There was nothing to see from the one bench rooted next to the cluster of air handlers. A neighboring, newer building stood in the way of the view. Orla had spent fifteen minutes rereading the same page before she gave up and went in, imagining the people whose windows faced the courtyard laughing at her over their dinners.

The one corner that escaped the adjacent building’s shadow was reserved for residents of the penthouse. But Floss walked straight toward the gate to the penthouse’s private patio and rattled it open. She stepped inside without looking back to see if Orla was following. She was.

The patio had a modest outdoor dining table and a row of hostas in wooden planters. Floss kicked at a red and yellow toddler car in her path, then reached into one of the planters and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. Above the top of the patio fence, the view stretched, uninterrupted, toward New Jersey. The sun was already gone, dragging the last of its light down over the Hudson. Orla sensed another glow behind her and turned to see, beyond a pair of sliding glass doors, a giant television flashing out the news. Opposite it, a man leaned back on his couch. His feet, in black socks, rested on the coffee table. Without smiling, he raised his glass to Orla.

“Jesus Christ,” Orla hissed. “Floss, he sees us.”

“It’s okay.” Floss took a sip of whiskey. “He lets me use the deck. It’s just his crash pad anyway, `cause he works here. He really lives in Delaware.” She passed the bottle to Orla.

“But…” Orla looked at the toddler car, then back at the man in the penthouse. He was still watching them. “But it’s weird.”

Floss shrugged. “Whatever. He’s, like, Ukrainian.”

They drank and talked, but did more of the former than the latter, the conversation stalling constantly. Orla sensed that Floss wanted both of them drunker before she said what she wanted to say. Finally, as Orla answered Floss’s demand to know who had lived in her bedroom before her—big-haired Jeannette, with the sportscaster ambitions, then shy Priya, with the endless visiting relatives—Floss cut her off to confess something.

“So, like, I know who you are,” she said. “I mean, I know your name. I just didn’t know that you were my roommate. To be honest, when we met that first day, I forgot your name as soon as you said it—you know how that happens? I decided it was Olga.” Floss spread her hands, swinging the whiskey by the neck. “And here, all along, you were Orla Cadden. I know your work.”

“My work?” Orla repeated. It seemed too grand a term for blogging.

Floss didn’t hesitate. “Sage Sterling,” she said. “Pretty sad, her dying and all.”

“It was sad,” Orla agreed. She actually, absurdly, did kind of miss Sage.

“You wrote about her one hundred and twenty-three times in the last year,” Floss said, swiping her manicured finger over her phone. Orla could see her own name and head shot atop the list of headlines on the screen. “Here’s the one where you listed what was in that salad the paparazzi always snapped her eating,” Floss murmured. “I liked that.”

“It was the best traffic anything on her ever did,” Orla said. “Even better than when I wrote she died.”

Floss waited for a siren to fade, then said: “Do you think you could do that—what you did for her—for me?”

“Um,” Orla said. “I just called the salad place, and they told me what she got. It was just a standard Cobb with edamame, if you think about it.”

“Not that.” Floss took a swallow of whiskey and set the bottle on the edge of the roof. “The first time you wrote about Sage,” she said, “she was just the daughter of some studio executive. She was nobody.”

“Right, but then she started to act,” Orla protested. “She got the Some Like It Hot remake pretty much right away—”

“No.” Floss shook her head hard. A segment of her fake hair was starting to come loose, its sticky root sagging into view. “No, she did not get it right away. First she was in that photo, when all those models went to one of those dumb strip mall places where you drink and paint the same paintings. They Instagrammed it, and you did that post identifying everyone in the picture.”

Orla had forgotten that that was how it started.

“That, just that, was enough to get her a publicist,” Floss went on. “And the publicist got someone to send her those boots, the white leather ones with the rainbow laces. And she wore them, so the boot people sent the pictures to bloggers. You remember getting those pictures?”

Orla nodded. The post she had turned them into was headlined “Sage Sterling’s Boots: Trippy Or Trippin’?” “I don’t think we should say ‘trippin,’’” Orla had protested to Ingrid, before she hit Publish. “I think that’s like a black thing? And we shouldn’t appropriate it? It might seem racist?” Ingrid had overruled her. “You’re the one being racist, trust me,” she had said.

“So then you did a post about her boot style, with photos of all the boots she’d ever worn.” Floss smeared the gloss off her mouth with her palm and wiped it on the back of a cream-colored chair cushion. “You called her a boot icon. A couple months later, the boot people named a style after her, which you covered, which made the boots sell out. So some fashion line invited her to curate—” here, Floss raised her fingers and made air quotes that punctured the air so forcefully, Orla winced on its behalf “—a whole line of boots for them. That got her to Fashion Week. She was supposed to sit in the second row, but her publicist brought sheets of paper with her name printed on them and stole the seats of front-row girls who didn’t show up. That was smart. I liked that move.”

It had grown dark. A floodlight tacked up over the sliding doors went on. It was too bright for the small space, meant to shine over someone’s endless suburban backyard. It might have made Orla homesick, if she wasn’t busy wondering whether the Ukrainian man could now see up her skirt as she leaned over the rim of the building, into the night. She felt thirsty and picked up the whiskey, found it didn’t help.

“You put her in a roundup of Fashion Week It Girls,” Floss went on. “A reader asked you who she was, so you did a post with, like, facts about her. Remember?”

“9 INSANE Facts About Sage Sterling.” Never ten facts—readers hated the number ten. It was too perfect, too choreographed. Suspect.

“And you found that old photo of her with the kid from that boy band, the one who’s hot now,” Floss went on.

“Yeah,” Orla said. “I thought they dated in high school.”

“Wasn’t true,” Floss said, “but it didn’t matter. You wrote it, and then you corrected yourself, but someone had already put it in their Wikipedia pages. I bet you it’s still there now. And the publicists were into it, so they went with it. They made them date.” Floss hugged herself and shivered. It was August, warm enough to be out on a roof near the water, but not warm enough to do it in just shapewear. “And then you really wrote,” she said.

Orla remembered. “Sage and Finn—Uh, We Mean SINN—Step Out Together for the First Time.” “Every Sinn-gle Thing Sage Wore On Tour With Finn’s New Band.” “Sinn Has a Sexy Hawaiian Veterans Day—Pics, Right This Way!”

“And then, Jesus Christ,” Floss said. “She got that haircut, the grandma haircut with the platinum and the curlers.”

“Erm, Marilyn Monroe WHO? Come See Sage Sterling’s New ’Do.” Ingrid had added the “erm” after Orla left the office for the day.

That’s when she got Some Like It Hot,” Floss said bitterly. She pointed at Orla. “After you said she looked like Marilyn Monroe. She looked like a goddamn Golden Girl!”

Floss sounded so upset that Orla almost apologized. Instead, she reminded Floss that the movie was made by the studio Sage’s dad ran, that she probably would have gotten the part even if he was the only one who knew who she was. “Besides,” she added, feeling suddenly defensive of Sage, patron saint of her disposable income, “are you trying to tell me you’re jealous? She got addicted to heroin and died.”

Floss waved it away. “She got sloppy. I’m not like that.”

Orla stared at her. She thought about going downstairs and into her room, about putting the flimsy fake wall between her and this strange, scheming girl. She thought about telling her super, Manny, about the weirdo in the penthouse, watching young women on his deck when he should have been home with his kid in Delaware.

“This is the part,” Floss said patiently, “where you ask what’s in it for you.”

Orla shook her head. “What could possibly be in it for me?” she asked. “Also, no offense, but you’re a little old to start trying to be famous. I mean, you’re, what…?”

“I’m twenty-eight,” Floss said. “Just like you, right?”

Orla straightened herself with what she hoped seemed like authority, with the air of someone who had put Sage Sterling on the map. “And you’re just now getting into dog apparel parties,” she said.

Floss smoothed her hair away from her face, flicked it over her shoulder. “At least I’m not working at them.”

The line was cruel, but Floss made it sound like a joke they’d had for years. And that was what got Orla—Orla, who had told herself on the day she moved to New York that the hollow way she felt would subside once the cable got hooked up, and who had gone on feeling empty every day for six years.

She said, “What’s in it for me?”

“If we do this right,” Floss answered, “whatever you need. I’m sure you don’t want to blog forever. I’m sure you have, what? A book? So you need an agent. If you help me, if I get as big as I think I can, they’ll want to talk to you just because you’re standing next to me.”

Orla thought of her laptop sitting closed and cool, untouched in the dark of her room. She told herself that as soon as she finished this drink, she would go downstairs and write a thousand words without the TV on. “I don’t need your help with my book,” she said. “I can get an agent on my own.”

Floss laughed. “Oh, really?” she said. “Are you sure? You better be sure. You better be sure that you’re in, like, the top five writers in New York City, and that you know all the people they know, and that those people like you better, and that those people are the right ones to begin with. Because look, Orla.” Floss placed her hands on either side of Orla’s head and pointed it at the building next to theirs, the one that blocked the sky from the rest of the roof. “It’s 10:45 on a Monday night, and everybody in that building has their lights on. You see? They’re all still up. Just like we’re still up. What do you think they’re doing?” She aimed Orla’s head, roughly, at another building beneath them, a low-rise in pinkish-gray brick. “More lights,” she said. “How about them?”

Orla saw a girl in her sports bra bent over her computer, drumming her fingers on her chin.

“I’ve done the math,” Floss said. “I’ve done the actual math. There are eight million people here, and all of them want something as bad as I want what I want, as bad as you want what you want. We’re not all going to get it. It’s just not possible, that all these people could have their dreams come true in the same time, same place. It’s not enough to be talented, it’s not enough to work hard. You need to be disciplined, and you need to be ruthless. You have to do anything, everything, and you need to forget about doing the right thing.” She released Orla with a little shove and put her hands on her hips. “Leave that shit to people in the Midwest.”

They were quiet as the atmosphere sucked up her monologue. Orla steadied herself and looked Floss over. She would never make it as an actress, she thought. She went a little too big, wanted a little too hard. But Floss, it seemed, didn’t want to be an actress. She wanted to be what she already was, even if nobody knew it yet: a celebrity. A person, exaggerated. And her point—the cold slap of the eight million dreams around them—unhooked something in Orla.

“I don’t know,” she said, shakily, finally. “That kind of sounds like bullshit to me.” She tried to hold back a burp and found that it wasn’t a burp at all. She leaned over and threw up on the deck. The whiskey burned twice as hot coming back up. Orla kicked her purse toward Floss. “Can you get me a tissue?” she gasped.

Floss dug through Orla’s bag. “Ohhhh,” she breathed after a moment, tugging something out. “This looks familiar.”

Panting, hands on her knees, Orla squinted up and saw Floss holding, between two egg-shaped nails, Marie Jacinto’s cheap business card. The one Orla had found by the elevator. Orla would never forget that: Floss standing there, grinning at her, flicking the card. She would think of it on that awful last day, as blood bloomed through her shirt and Floss said in low voice, for once trying not to be heard, that this was the deal, and you know it.

And they did have a deal by then, with lawyers and seals and duplicates, but Orla never felt that the scrawls she made numbly on those documents were as binding as her failure to argue with what Floss said next. Floss put the card back in Orla’s bag carefully, like she wanted it to be safe. She pushed the kiddie car away from the puddle of vomit and walked Orla off of the roof, leaving the mess untouched and the gate wide open behind them. Inside, as they waited for the elevator, Floss grinned and put her face in Orla’s hair. “I don’t think it does sound like bullshit to you,” she said into Orla’s ear. “I think you are like me.”

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