I have no memory of where I read about this collection of essays, but I know it sat on my book list for a while until it popped up at reduced rate on Kindle. And I’m very glad it did too. Tolentino zips at breakneck pace through a wide range of subjects (often juxtaposing them in unexpected ways), demonstrating considerable wit and smarts along the way. The essays range from the impact of social media to her own stint on a reality TV show through to drugs, religion and the ‘cult of the difficult woman’. It’s sparkling stuff.
The essay about her reality TV experience is wonderful and troubling, partly because it was from a more innocent age (contrast the feedback the Love is Blind participants have been receiving) but also because she follows up to see how life has panned out for those who she was with in Puerto Rico. There’s also a great, punchy essay about weddings and marriage (I Thee Dread) which successfully interweaves her own feelings about what it means for her (in terms of power) and what the industry says about our society. She is also a brilliant writer on the internet and social media and how it distorts us, constantly enmeshed with the fact that her rise as a writer has been inextricably bound up with both.
The two that stayed with me most were ‘Ecstasy’ which manages to look at drugs, religion and music (‘chopped and screwed’) in combination in her city of Houston; it veers between talk of her Houston megachurch (wonderfully nicknamed ‘The Repentagon’) to the DJ creating a new scene from his own house. The second is all about her college (UVA) and how it has treated violence against women (or not) – it’s powerful and timely and depressing in equal measure.
Reviews of her essays tend to use words like ‘freewheeling’ but I think that implies a lack of direction, whereas what I found was a kind of compulsive energy; and passion – these aren’t short essays, they range across intellectual and emotional territory. Occasionally, there feels like some duplication, but overall it is a captivating ride – and one that stretches the brain cells to work that little bit harder than normal.
BUY IT NOW: Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion