cover image There Is No Ethan: How Three Women Caught America’s Biggest Catfish

There Is No Ethan: How Three Women Caught America’s Biggest Catfish

Anna Akbari. Grand Central, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5387-4219-8

Sociologist Akbari (Startup Your Life) expands on her 2014 Observer article for this riveting account of deception and emotional abuse in the early days of online dating. It begins in March 2011, when Akbari connected with two other women who had been communicating with—and growing suspicious of—a man named Ethan Schuman, before flashing back to December 2010, when Akbari received her first OkCupid message from Ethan, initiating their protracted virtual courtship. “It was his cleverness, his openness, and... his eagerness to keep the conversation going” that Akbari says kept her hooked despite repeated delays to their IRL meeting (Ethan’s excuses escalated from a snowstorm to a cancer diagnosis). The narrative takes on a thriller-like quality as Ethan grows increasingly cagey and flies into rages. Eventually, the women discover that Ethan is actually medical student Emily Slutsky (now a practicing gynecologist), who, when caught, offers insincere apologies and murky justifications; she pleads boredom, talks about Ethan as the narrator of a novel, and calls catfishing “an addiction.” While they were corresponding, Akbari was ironically teaching a class at NYU about the construction of identity—a topic about which she and Ethan mind-bendingly engage in a lively debate early on—and Akbari concludes with a fascinating if brief discussion of the sociological implications of catfishing. Though Emily’s motivations remain somewhat opaque, there’s plenty in this internet horror story to hold readers’ attention. (June)