Author: Jia Tolentino
Summary: Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die.
In the introduction to Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino explains what each of the subsequent nine essays will cover, as well as the book’s overarching theme: “the spheres of public imagination that have shaped my understanding of myself, of this country, and of this era.” But they’re also about the process through which Tolentino “tried to undo their acts of refraction.” About how, in an attempt to dig out the truth, you expose the cracks instead.
I initially glossed over the paragraph, impatient to get toward the actual essays themselves, but, in hindsight, I’ve come to appreciate how succinct she was in extracting each essay’s essential thesis. I could never come up with this kind of summary on my own, but I don’t think I’d really want to, either. Each time I sat down to read, I found myself gorging on Tolentino’s words as if I couldn’t swallow them fast enough; whatever facsimile at which I would have eventually arrived would most likely pale in comparison to the source material.
While the essays in Trick Mirror don’t neatly fall into the category of memoir, they stray there often enough, and the personal details Tolentino weaves into each essay deserve to be mentioned as a contributing factor as to why I enjoyed the book so much in the first place. It’s not just that Tolentino is a phenomenal writer and a keen observer of popular (and sometimes political) culture—it’s that she uses her own experiences as a springboard for whatever point she’s trying to make. I liked each essay individually, but more so when they were stitched together, and I could clearly see the bigger picture.
Tolentino took about eighteen months to write Trick Mirror, and her effort deserves to be savored. It’s so, so easy to binge; caught up in the momentum, one essay blurs into the next. But don’t give in to temptation. Be present in the moment, savor the words, and then let your brain stew on the perspective provided. The book will be there in the morning.