Same Same is like a Google search before applying keywords and filters—information overload without a refined focus to maintain interest.
In Peter Mendelsund’s Same Same, bigwigs and mom and pop entrepreneurs alike pursue the next great innovation through peer support think tanks, brainstorming conferences and retreats. Our protagonist, Percy, arrives at the Institute, a domed city in the desert, with the hope of completing his own project and reinventing himself. Despite the founding of the colony representing greatness birthed from nothing, Percy is stifled by the regimented meetings, community and morale building exercises and constant counseling from higher-ups. Unable to assimilate, he procrastinates and escapes into drug use and an addiction to copying odd possessions at the Same Same shop beyond the borders. After one of his visits, the proprietor duplicates en masse the project notes Percy accidentally left behind and lets them loose. Endless swaths of paper flood and clog the Institute just as an upcoming storm front threatens to degrade the Institute’s structural and cultural fidelity. Ironically, his work thrives under the looming chaos.
Mendelsund is bursting to discuss concepts ranging from the hyper-regulation of productivity, to commodification of culture, to art itself, as the novel’s near 500 pages evidences. The narrative straddles stylistic lines, switching between Percy’s first-person point of view to the papers’ third-person account, while also integrating internet shorthand like “Rn” and “Tbd” into oft semicoloned, multisyllabic, wordy diatribes stretching single paragraphs across pages. Even typed infographics and footnotes appear in the text like those found in a bibliographical source. This storytelling style is jarring initially, though eventually becomes a quirky characteristic of the book.
For all of Same Same’s sharp observation and humor, the plot is thin to where there’s hardly one at all. Percy witnesses and is subjected to violence that hints at a more sinister underbelly to the Institute’s conceit of celebrated production, which has driven some of his fellows to discontent and existential deterioration. The administration intimidates its citizens if their projects aren’t happening on a specific timeline, and the citizens’ obsessive use of technology broadcasts their lives for anyone to monitor. Events and discoveries that should raise concern are swept aside and make no lasting impact. The Institute’s collapse gets a brief description of the destruction, followed by the colony rebuilding as a system of underground tunnels like nothing ever happened.
Mendelsund’s insights into creation are fuller but fall into the same trap of easy conclusion. What accomplishment does one derive from getting what’s desired through Same Same-ing objects without putting any work into it and eradicating any possibility of failure? Yet, when Percy’s inspired by his work, he happily buys into doctrine and stops questioning what makes something real and fulfilling.
For all its high-concept exploration, Same Same is like a Google search before applying keywords and filters—information overload without a refined focus to maintain interest. Mendelsund has Percy break down every thought he conjures regardless of miniscule importance or obviousness, like having him explain the different aspects of a novel as he’s writing his own. Full of metafictional indulgence and references to other literature, (Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain is listed as a major influence in the acknowledgements), the novel is much too convoluted for what little it seems to actually say.