Alex Beaumais is the author of Dox, published by tragickal in 2021. He has also published short fiction at Ligeia, Expat and tragickal.
Without getting into the weeds, Dox is a story that centers around three Polish-Canadian sisters, Ariel, Bela and Jane, and one of the sisters’ new boyfriend, Rick. The story takes place in five sections and the timeline is non-linear. As the title suggests, one of the characters is doxxed and the story deals with the consequences of this, as well as the cultural and technological moment that allows for doxxing.
For those of you unfamiliar with doxxing and redpilling; to dox someone is to publish their private and identifying information on the internet, usually with the intent of destroying their life or punishing them for some perceived injustice. Redpilling is the process by which an individual’s perspective is dramatically changed, introducing them to a new, and typically disturbing understanding of the true nature of a particular situation. The term refers to a scene from the 1999 movie The Matrix, and has been widely used on the internet over the past half-decade.
Below is an excerpt from my conversation with Alex about his novel, Dox.
First, I would like to congratulate you on writing such an entertaining novel. Dox is totally engaging—hence why I read it in one afternoon.
Before we get into the content of your novel, I wanted to ask you about the process of writing Dox. The subject matter is timely and it seems like it could have been written yesterday. Did it take you long to write the novel? How much research went into writing this book?
AB—First up, thank you for doing this. I started the book in 2015, completed the first draft in October 2017, and worked at it with consistent low intensity until the week it was released in February 2021. Probably, it could have been released a long time ago, but I kept polishing.
I devoted two short rounds of explicit research to the Ariel section, although I don’t think this made a big difference. Largely, my lived experience of lurking on Twitter and going to warehouse parties provided my inspiration or source material.
IT—“Sometimes he thought he was a bad father for letting a fire fixation fester in her, but nothing soothed her like holding a screen and staring into the flames.” (p. 1)
The above quote is from the Prologue and describes Ron—the girls’ father—expressing his concern for allowing the youngest daughter to watch hours of fire footage on YouTube. When I went back through the book this quote stuck out to me. It seems like many of us are staring into our phones watching the world burn, or watching peoples lives be destroyed. Was this line meant to highlight the childish nature of wanting to watch things burn? Or, is it just enjoyable to watch things be destroyed?
AB: Jane, the youngest daughter, behaves in some spectrum-y ways, including compiling endless YouTube video playlists, which has consequences for later in the novel. This opening line foreshadows menace and, as you suggest, implicates the techno-alienation and nihilism of the moment.
IT—In the middle section of the novel, which explores redpilling and the dox aftermath, you chose to black out four pieces of text. I’ve reread these sections and I can only guess as to what would fill in the blanks. The blacking out of text only appears in this section of the novel. What, if any, was your intention for using this technique?
AB—The original drafts of the novel were spicier and more extreme. I always knew that the subject matter would impose limits in terms of what the (small) readership would accept, or, more pertinently, what I would accept putting out into the world. I decided that, instead of rewriting sections fully, which a more mature, level-headed person might have done, I would instead tease the reader with redacted words. This felt legitimized when I found the tactic used in Jia Pingwa’s Ruined City (废都), a previously banned book (dismissed as a sex instruction guide) sometimes called the best Chinese novel of the 20th century. I even considered releasing multiple versions of Dox, such as the “mass-market version” and “uncensored version.” Mainly the self-censorship exists as a curiosity or gimmick, but it also nods at speech limits and the need for self-preservation.
IT—Without giving too much away to the reader, one of the things that comes to light in the dox is that Rick participated in the 13 Theses March. What is the 13 Theses March? I’ve tried googling this but did not find anything, which led me to believe that it is a fictitious march, but I could be wrong in thinking that.
AB—The 13 Theses March is another curiosity that remained in the book instead of being cut. This fictitious march evokes a LARPY group of young men nailing their complaints to a wall. It recalls the talking point that “The printing press led to the Protestant Reformation, and the Internet is now disrupting global democratic institutions.” At one point I wanted to write out 13 Theses but this got buried in the other developments of the novel.
IT—Throughout the Redpilling section I felt a lot of sympathy for Rick, even though he seemed like a god-awful person. Ariel, on the other hand, elicited no sympathy from me until the end when she is chastised by Zainub for her talk on Camille Paglia. The hopelessness of her situation, the inability to adhere to the commandments and the anguish it causes her was very sad to me. Was it your goal to force the reader to empathize with both of these characters?
AB—If the original draft was edgier and maybe more entertaining, it verged sometimes on the cartoonish, and I wanted to do something serious. The book needed moral ambiguity or else readers might dismiss it as pulpy Internet-culture porn (which maybe they’ll do anyway). It seemed pointless, therefore, to make any one character a punching bag.
IT—Dox is focused on the culture wars and the Us vs Them mentality of it all. Ariel is an academic achiever and a member of Cell #281. In the first section of the novel she asks Bela if she will attend a talk she is giving that night on Camille Paglia and crypto-fascism (p. 8). Opposite to Ariel we have Rick. A bland Kraut-Anglo (p. 19) who is an assistant editor at Free Speech and secret contributor to Hate Facts. Bela is the only one of the three who does not seem to be 100% self-obsessed. Bela cleans dishes, prepares meals and takes care of her family. At one point she says that she wants to go back to school to study “Japanese again. I think” (p. 166), expressing a desire to improve herself. Ariel refuses her request to help with the family mortgage so that Bela could pay for the classes and destroys any potential for discussion by stating that Rick “works for Richard Spencer” (p. 167).
Ariel and Rick view the world through strict ideology and choose ideology over happiness and well-being, which zaps them of any real personality. Bela on the other hand is grounded in the day to day and the real struggle of life.
Does this make sense, or am I projecting my own ideologies and values onto these characters?
AB—That makes sense. Sometimes you’ll hear about horseshoe theory, the idea that the far left and the far right inadvertently overlap, which is a fraught but also partially truthful idea. Beyond politics, I’m interested in a sort of interpersonal horseshoe theory—say, where people who are bitter, intractable enemies might be so because of a similarity in one attribute and a difference in another. Sometimes enemies start off as best friends—for example, they have almost identical interests but eventually discover a great dissonance in their operating style or morals. To me, this seems more explosive and interesting than two people who are simply very different and therefore alien to each other.
Ariel and Rick don’t share the same exact personality, but they’re both self-obsessed, vain, ungrateful, striving, ideologically driven, stubborn, and somewhat bratty or fortunate in their circumstances. This contrasts with Bela, who is quietly suffering, burdened by family, and overlooked.
In a world where people are atomized and yet often expected to turn up the volume on their ideological engagement with the world, she represents an unmooring from social issues—albeit not a conscious one (like an alcoholic abstaining), but an inborn, organic one. I guess it’s the path to sanity for many. Some consider it irresponsible, like turn on, tune in, drop out. But many are wasting their time (or making things worse) trying to change minds—anyone with a polemical blog could tell you that. For many it’s better to just make hay with atomization. Find the four or five people who can help you stave off your enslavement or alienation and collaborate with them. It’s not that change is impossible, but it requires bigger sacrifices and timescales than many people allow. Even without running out our days on an ideological treadmill, we all have bodies that are rotting.
IT—I was interested in your inclusion of Donald Trump in this book. He is mentioned on a number of occasions. I believe once by Ariel (p. 7), again by Rick (p. 78/80/83) and finally in a debate between Rick and Ariel at the dinner table (p. 174). Given that this book takes place in Canada, what do you make of these Canadians arguing over Donald Trump instead of Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh? Does Canada have its own culture wars, or do we just glob onto whatever the United States is engaged in so that we can feel involved in the process?
AB—I’m afraid it’s the latter. We have microcultures, but we’re downstream from bigger nations and political bodies and unlikely to act out of turn or set the tone. Our COVID experience is illustrative. Many people here and beyond would like to participate in American culture and they’re seldom discouraged.
IT—Finally, what kind of reception has the book received here in Canada, or abroad? How did the pandemic impact your ability to promote the book?
AB—It hasn’t received much attention, although it slowly trickles into more hands. The pandemic didn’t affect my ability to promote it.