Sunday, June 10, 2018

Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

I heard no preliminary hype about this book - it just kind of appeared out of the ether, but I really liked the Black Swan vibe I got from the cover and the blurb on Goodreads compared this book to Donna Tartt and Gillian Flynn, two authors whose works I regularly five star because they're amazing. Here's the thing, though: Burton is in no way on the same level as those two authors and to compare them is unfair to both parties. It's like saying that people who like Brandon Sanderson should read Piers Anthony because they're both fantasy novels. While this is true, their target audiences are totally different, and you're only going to set up the comparison to fail due to unrealistic expectations.

SOCIAL CREATURE definitely aspires to be a 21st century work of F. Scott Fitzgeraldian or Edith Whartian proportions. Set in the upscale parts of New York, it features two layabouts with social aspirations named Louise and Lavinia. Louise is one of those drab, pale people who just sort of exist while wandering through life like a ghost. She gloms on to Lavinia, a flamboyantly lazy intellectual, who quotes poetry and writes Instagram captions in French, but doesn't have a job and still lives off her parents.

Louise, struggling to survive, ends up becoming closer and closer to Lavinia, and there's a homerotic vibe of fascination as their relationship deepens that's reminiscent of works like Dare Me, A Separate Peace, and The Great Gatsby. Louise becomes uncomfortably fascinated with Lavinia as she figures out how to manipulate her friend-and-possibly-more, but Lavinia is not as lazy as she appears and sometimes she knows exactly when she's being manipulated and isn't afraid to wreak her revenge.

Both girls are absolutely garbage human beings and so are all their friends. In some ways, this book reminded me of another book I read, SOCIABLE, which was also set in New York, only it targets the social media and tech-using set instead of the lazy armchair intellectual. I actually liked SOCIABLE more because it was more relatable and had some cuttingly astute observations. By contrast, SOCIAL CREATURE tried much too hard and had far too little payoff, and was written in an overly precious way, particularly in the beginning where it had a distinctly "This is Jane. See Jane run" narrative style. I might have liked this book if it had more depth, because Tarryn Fisher, Gillian Flynn, and yes, Donna Tartt, all excel at writing antiheroines. But this was just dull and derivative.

I can't recommend this book and I honestly question whether the person who wrote that blurb had read either Donna Tartt or Gillian Flynn, because the really are nothing alike.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

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