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Book Review: 'Social Creature', a deathly tale in the Instagram age

Devina Heriyanto
Devina Heriyanto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, May 23, 2018  /  03:37 pm
Book Review: 'Social Creature', a deathly tale in the Instagram age

Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton (Shutterstock/File)

On the internet, everything is “to die for”. Something cannot be just “good”, it has to be “great” or “awesome”. Someone you know cannot be just an “acquaintance”, they have to be your “friend” or even better, “BFF”. On the internet, the old tree-and-sound adage is updated into this: If you are alive but you don’t post anything so nobody can see you on social media, are you really alive?

Social Creature, a debut by Tara Isabella Burton, shows the lives of social media-dwelling, career climbing/aspiring millennials. The characters are the ones you know, either from real life or just online. On one spectrum are the ones with glitzy lifestyles and just “living in the moment” -- internet speak for “I’m unemployed but my parents are rich”.

On the other end of the spectrum are the more common people: those who have actual jobs, who struggle to maintain work and life balance, and who can't go to party or brunch on a whim because of, well, money.

Just like every other perfect internet story, Social Creature is set in New York. Louise, a struggling part-timer, meets Lavinia, a socialite. In a Cinderella-esque way, they become friends. Louise can now enter the world of the rich she could only dream about. They go to parties, they talk about the wannabes behind her back, they sign up for gym membership, they write, they don’t go to the gym, all the while taking pictures and posting them on social media, waiting for the upcoming likes.

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The first problem is that Louise does not have the means, be it money, time, or simply energy, to maintain the lifestyle and thus, their friendship. The second problem emerges when Louise falls in love with Lavinia’s ex, whom, true to the quintessential millennial behavior, Lavinia pretends not to care about. The third is when and after Lavinia dies, leaving Louise to live with the mess.

The book might seem like a hybrid of Gossip Girl and Gone Girl at a glance, but Burton makes the story work in every level.

Behind every character and relationship, lie the deep secrets nobody knows, at least online. The story and characters in Social Creature are relevant to every millennial, from those starting their careers and pursuing their dreams while worrying about money, to those who seem to have everything but still find flaws they try to hide. In short, Social Creature is the expose everyone with impostor syndrome in the Instagram age dreads.

Social Creature is a page turner indeed, with a gripping storyline and jabbing social criticisms. Through the characters and their relationships, Burton reminds us that we are all social creatures who might be a little manipulative and even abusive too.

Upon finishing the book, you might want to hold yourself back from reaching for your phone to post any deep, relevant quote on your Instagram account. Or better yet, rethink all your social media activity altogether. (wng)


Social Creature will be out at major Periplus and Books Beyond outlets in June.