Three speedy reviews

Somehow I’m back to a spot where I have dozens of books read but not reviewed… Three recent audios –

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Tolentino’s essay collection is billed as ‘reflections on self-delusion’ and, yes, it delivers that, but firmly through a millennial-lens. I felt quite old reading this collection (I’m Gen X), and the meaning of growing up without internet, phones, reality tv and even digital cameras, really hit as I read about the world through Tolentino’s much younger eyes. She describes the internet as ‘…the central organ of contemporary life…’ and considers the impact of the relentlessness and immediacy of the online world.

The essays cover a lot of ground – from reality TV and religious upbringing to the Fyre Festival and living in Trump’s America.

Americans are increasingly shut out of their own democracy, as political action is constrained into online spectacle…

Quite a few of the stories will be familiar if you’ve read Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, but Tolentino brings fresh perspective (still the general sense of dismay, but with a dash of hope). Like those interviewed in the recent doco The Social Dilemma, Tolentino urges us to consider what we get from the internet and what we give it in return.


Chances Are by Richard Russo

(Shamefully) this was my first Russo. It’s the story of three men who met at college, and graduated as the Vietnam War began. The disappearance of a female friend hovers in their collective history, and the men reunite for a weekend at Martha’s Vineyard and ponder the fate of their friend.

The characters are thoughtfully drawn, and although their back-stories are a little formulaic, they have depth, and are endearing. The most appealing element of the story was the thorough exploration of male friendship – I can’t say how authentic that is, but Russo captures the love, petty resentments, and shared history that make up the fabric of any long friendship.

Russo presents big ideas with an impressive economy words. He describes one character as someone who “…loved nothing more than extrapolating the world from a grain of sand…” (we all know that person, right?), and observes –

The things we keep secret tend to be right at the centre of who we are.

I didn’t care for the ‘mystery’ element of the story, but enjoyed the characters. I’ll be reading more from Russo.


You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here by Frances Macken

I was in need of light relief when I picked up Macken’s coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in a small Irish town – the thought of a few hours of listening to an Irish narrator was appealing, and it didn’t let me down (particularly the dialogue).

The story focuses on three girls, and tracks their friendship over many years, as relationships, school, and the yearning for ‘bigger things’ beckon. There were parallels with the Russo – apart from the theme of friendship, a girl also goes missing in Macken’s novel. But the ‘mystery’ is not where the action lies. Instead, it’s the seemingly minor events that put the friendships into focus, and it is in these details that Macken gets it right.

Check out Kim and Theresa’s glowing reviews if you need convincing.


7 responses

  1. I’m on the young end of GenX, really in that bridge between GenX and Millennial, but even a few years feels so large when it comes to technology. Trick Mirror sounds good, and I’m curious how much of it would make me feel old vs. being able to relate.

  2. I enjoyed the Macken, partly because I’ve been in that growing up in the middle of nowhere situation, thankfully with no Evelyn. Katie’s encouraging parents reminded me of my own. Looking forward to the Russo.

  3. I haven’t read Tolentino’s work, but she was the moderator for an online reading I attended during the lock down, and all I kept thinking was she seemed like such a twenty-something twit trying to really be “sooooooo f-ing cool” to the point of transparency in what she was doing. She kept swearing, like she thought it made her tough and more adult. It was awkward to watch.

    • Funny that you mention the swearing because I saw Tolentino in convo with Zadie Smith a year ago (I went for Smith – didn’t know who Tolentino was), and she swore all through the discussion. I kept thinking ‘You sound like a teenager playing at grown-up – choose some better words!’

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