Dark Mode, the debut novel of Ashley Kalagian Blunt
13 March 2023
Presently about fourteen percent of Australians do not own a smartphone, while some seventeen percent do not use social media. So although a minority, they don’t exactly — no pun intended — stand in isolation. Twenty-something Sydneysider Reagan Carsen is a person who resides in both camps, in Dark Mode, published by Ultimo Press, March 2023, the debut novel of Sydney based Canadian Australian author, Ashley Kalagian Blunt.
When it comes to smartphones and social media though, Reagan seems like an unlikely holdout. But it’s not just smartphones and social media she shuns. Reagan has no online presence whatsoever. As the owner of the Voodoo Lily Garden Centre, a small business, a smartphone would surely be a must. As would a social media presence. After all, is not Instagram a pathway to fortune untold? And if there’s one thing Voodoo Lily needs right now, it’s a little good fortune.
But Reagan’s reluctance to embrace these technologies, stems from a fear of them. Reagan is deliberately keeping herself out the way of the all-seeing, and invasive, internet. Ever since being stalked as a teenager, Reagan has understandably gone all out to shield herself from the digital domain. But when Reagan stumbles upon the mutilated body of women while running one morning, she immediately fears the worst.
The murdered woman, lying in alley not far from where Reagan lives, looks almost exactly like her. Reagan sees this as a veiled threat, and a message that her old stalker has found her. In her trepidation, she refuses to even tell the police of her gruesome discovery, petrified she will expose herself. Instead she turns to a friend, Min, an investigator, and true crime writer, for help.
But this turns out only to be the beginning. There are more murders. To Reagan’s mind the victims all resemble her. But still she continues her quest for answers. Having avoided the internet for so long, Reagan now finds herself venturing into its darkest recesses. But that’s not all. Having struck up some new friendships, the usually guarded Reagan may have become a little too trusting, perhaps making herself vulnerable.
Although Dark Mode is her first novel, Kalagian Blunt is an accomplished writer. In 2018 she wrote My Name Is Revenge, a collection of short stories and essays. She followed this up in 2020 with her memoir How to Be Australian. Her work has also featured in Kill Your Darlings, The Sydney Morning Herald, and Overland. When not writing, Kalagian Blunt teaches creative writing, and also mentors emerging authors.