Book Talk

Trick Mirror

Vincent Acovino

What's worth writing about at a time in history where both everything and nothing seems worthy of our attention? Anything, argues Jia Tolentino.

Trick Mirror was written between the spring of 2017 and the fall of 2018, and finds Tolentino making her way through a time in American history that often communicates in the language of absurdity. It's a period that, writes Tolentino, taught her "to suspend ... desire for a conclusion, to assume that nothing is static and renegotiation is perpetual, to hope primarily that little truths will keep emerging in time." Tolentino finds these little truths in just about every corner of American cultural life. Her best pieces read like viral Twitter threads written by the Frankfurt School, seamlessly blending cynical humor with academic rigor.

Stories about the toxicity of the internet are not new, but what's interesting here is how our writer is so uniquely implicated in her subject. As somebody who could be considered very online even during the early days of the internet, and who is now dependent on the internet for her livelihood, there are few forced to navigate it's machinery the way she is. 

"I don't know what to do with the fact that I myself continue to benefit from all this: that my career is possible in large part because of the way the Internet collapses identity, opinion and action," she writes. It's this kind of constant self-awareness and inward inquiry that give Trick Mirror its most chewable moments.

 More often than not, the essays here end up concluding with a well-articulated shrug of the shoulders. If you're expecting feminist praxis, or ways of repairing the many broken and flawed systems being critiqued in Trick Mirror, you won't find much of either here.

But there's an undeniable catharsis in seeing such a great writer lucidly communicate the conditions of our most absurd forms of misery. 

I can't stop thinking about the way Tolentino describes the shame of turning off her social-media blockers and reveling in the pleasures of the internet like some unhinged degenerate. 

"I'll sit there like a rat pressing the lever, like a woman repeatedly hitting myself on the forehead with a hammer, masturbating through the nightmare until I finally catch the gasoline whiff of a good meme," she writes. It's a line that made me genuinely laugh — until I thought more about the nightmare.