My boss bought me Trick Mirror, a collection of nine essays by The New Yorker, Jezebel, and The Hairpin writer Jia Tolentino, for my birthday this year. As usual, she’s gifted me something meaty to absorb that suits my tastes well.
The collection of essays in Trick Mirror includes a range of topics spanning marriage, the 2016 election and Trump presidency, life as a teen reality tv ‘star’, Big Tech, and religion. But it’s not just a bunch of millennial naval-gazing reflection. This is a well-researched, sourced, and beautifully expressed collection of essays. It felt like reading the nuanced work of a good friend – someone who shares my core values but brings a depth of knowledge to each subject that I had previously lacked. Her naturally fluid writing style meant that many of her essays would start in one place, but seamlessly flow to touch on a number of different topics before concluding. I am going to start following Tolentino’s work more closely, as her style of writing and expression really gelled with me. I feel as though she could pick any topic at random and bring something deep and meaningful to the discourse. That is a truly rare talent, and I’m delighted that Trick Mirror could introduce me to more of her work.
Of the nine essays, ‘We Come From Old Virigina’ will stay with me the longest. Tolentino, a graduate of UVA in Charlottesville, does not shy away from the serious and troubling stance of her alma mater’s handling of sexual assault. Through a reflection on the explosive 2014 Rolling Stone feature about a horrific accusation of a fraternity gang rape, Tolentino examines the fallout from that article as well as the long and sordid history of UVA – right back to the problematic role of it’s founder Thomas Jefferson. This essay represents the pinacle of Tolentino’s insightful, educational and eye-opening method. Most importantly, she does not shy away from her own blindspots and thoughtfully examines her own bias and privilege.
The only issue I have with Trick Mirror is that I decided to read it in 2020 – the year of mental exhaustion. I don’t know about you… but I’m finding it difficult to motivate myself to read books that tackle real issues right now. The endless cycle of outrage and political malarkey is wearing me thin, and this collection of essays touched in many of the issues within which I am already drowning. Most notably, the Cheeto in Chief. Having said that, Tolentino handles these topics with a deft hand and great care, and once I forced myself to start each new essay I had a great deal of difficulty putting the book down.
I’m aware that I did not highly rate the last collection of essays that I reviewed, being Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay. Both Bad Feminist and Trick Mirror are highly acclaimed by critics. Both give a platform to a non-white feminist. Both bring something worthwhile to modern feminist discourse. Both tackle the tricky issues. I can only guess that the reason Trick Mirror resonated better with me than Bad Feminist was that I learned something each time I picked up Trick Mirror. It was more than an echo-chamber for my pre-existing pop-culture and feminist knowledge. Perhaps it’s also her style of writing, for there is little reason else why Tolentino’s writing about the rise of Houston’s hip hop scene would ignite me, while Gay’s detailed essay on professional scrabble tournaments left me cold.
All in all: I rate Trick Mirror 4 Thrusting Barre Pelvis’ out of 5.