Jia Tolentino’s first book, Trick Mirror, consists of meticulous yet concise essays spanning across a wide range of relevant social topics. She examines the transformation of society by the internet, our obsession with productivity and optimization, the limited roles of female characters in novels, and long held ideas and expectations of marriage. Her perspective is broad, making allowances for all while always being cognizant of her own inherent human biases. Her references are well explained and contribute to her examination of each various subject matter. This collection does exactly as the subtitles suggests, reflecting on delusions that affect & limit our notion of reality.
The organization of the book into nine 30 page-ish essays allows the reader to consume each topic completely, immersing oneself in the exploration of the subject before ending with a sense of conclusion and completion. The first essay, “The I in the Internet” begins with a five point thesis, clearly illustrating her focus points for the upcoming dissection of the internet’s impact. She argues that the internet distends our sense of identity, overvalues our opinions, encourages opposition, weakens solidarity and destroys our sense of scale. She articulately defends each one of these points with recent and relevant evidence, connecting to larger philosophical and sociologically observative notions of our changing collective mental state.
Many of her essays either tie in or center on feminist themes, especially so in the essay “Pure Heroines.” She examines the social narrative that portrays women as individuals, but only to a point– always stunted by marriage or other obligations that come hand in hand with womanhood. These imposed expectations time and time again propel women into misery, their mental health deteriorating as their societal standing improves. Tolentino examines the origin of these corrosive standards and reveals a long history of disrespect to the point of resentment toward woman. Tolentino quotes De Beauvoir explaining this distaste “Woman has been assigned the role of parasite, and every parasite is an exploiter.” This immediate condemnation of the womanly figure grants permission to those who seek to violate or subjugate it. Our culture of disrespect toward women encourages this mindset as normal and correct. As long as these ideas are allowed to perpetuate and dictate our systems of society, these expectations will continue to condone the repression of women.
In a clear demonstration of her agile knowledge, Tolentino’s pivots from the feminist examination to the essay “A Story of a Generation in 7 Scams” just one essay later. Here, she examines the fundamental American ideal “that it is good, important, and even noble to see an opportunity to profit and take whatever you can.” (pg. 167) Tolentino is especially impressive in this essay, illustrating this theme through 7 different examinations into millennial stories ranging from; the housing market crash, the student debt crisis, Facebook’s exploitation of individual identities, the promotion of a “GirlBoss” ideal, Jeff Bezos’ mistreatment of employees and lastly, Trump’s own displacement of money when it comes to his own charity and Trump University. This wide range of topics grants a sweeping view of our current social climate, negating any further need for evidence of Tolentino’s argument.
Tolentino clearly proves herself capable of handling longer works with this collection. Her voice is clear and resonant, sounding the call of a generation, asking her readers to open their eyes to the injustices around them. She reminds us all of the importance of being an active participant in one’s own life, community and the collective whole of humanity.
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