• Ria Chinchankar


Most cultural critiques I read come from niche socialist papers, from publications by disillusioned and rightfully angsty Ivy League alums, or from sources that I consider leftist, not liberal. Edgy, I know. Those writers are the type that turn their noses up at an obnoxiously colorful Aspen Ideas Festival backpack and view a New Yorker tote bag that comes with an online subscription as a gesture of performative intellectualism.

What makes Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino different is that it seemingly spouts from the $4 oat milk latte yuppie urban millennial world. This is largely because of the first impression that Tolentino makes herself. At a glance, Tolentino is a beautiful, young, well-educated, socially aware, immaculately-presented-on-social-media writer who came of age in traditional environments, like churches and Greek life, and now writes for The New Yorker. Yet, her observations of how forces larger and deeper than any of us shape our lives ring true, profound and insightful. The initial impression of the author—as someone who produces the empty (or worse, harmful) content we find everywhere—misleads.

As I read the book, I found myself scribbling notes. Tolentino was able to articulate concepts I had only felt clouds of words around, and an inability to articulate clearly. She went three steps deeper than my vague clouds of words, and pushed me to think deeper about what I believe, as she reflected on feminism, the economy, power, and our generation in her series of essays. This is the most valuable part of her writing—instead of giving us neatly packaged conclusions, she gives us context, structure and a new lens from which to view the world, without having to hold our hand the entire way. To me, her brilliance lies in how I am forced to push and pull my own ideas against what she writes, and in the process, discover more about what I believe. I hope to write like her one day.

However, as a reader, I also felt intense moments of frustration. I wrote in the “notes” app on my laptop that I felt that Tolentino gives us an orange, and all the lovely information about where it was grown, how sweet it is and every inch of context we could ever hope to know about it. She gives us juice and explains what juice is and how fresh it is and who made it and its history. Crucially, though, she falls one step short of explaining how exactly the orange becomes the juice. She gives us all this meticulous context about whatever her essay is about—and then stops just short of where the lines connect in my mind. I am aware that this may be a flaw in my own ability to reason and piece ideas together. Even so, I am not asking for her personal opinion so I can make it my own. Rather, I am still trying to figure out precisely how an orange becomes juice. I am happy to decide whether I like the juice for myself.

Extensive orange metaphor aside, this book made me think. It made me reflect. It made me evaluate the contexts of the mundane. Right now, in a self-created news-sheltered quarantine bubble, the homeliest and mundanest of the mundane is all I really (and gratefully) have. Thankfully, Trick Mirror illuminates it and makes it fascinating. 

©2020 by ~quarantine content~.