Reed Books: Social Creature

Jess Reed, Editor

“Social Creature” by Tara Isabella Burton is a digitalized thriller reminiscent of “The Great Gatsby”, but with a much darker, raw streak to it. The novel follows twenty-nine-year-old Louise Wilson, a writer living in poverty in New York City, who falls into an obsessive friendship with Lavinia Williams, a twenty-three-year-old socialite with virtually infinite money and time.

Burton does a good job balancing the acknowledgment of the power that technology has over our lives without falling into the “phone bad, book good” trope. With someone’s phone and password, you have access to their entire life; we manage everything we have from our phones, these separate, stealable things. This works in favor of our protagonist, which takes me to the second win of this book: Louise.

Louise’s moral ambiguity is extremely well developed. She’s not a classic “morally gray” character who ends up being a brooding teenage boy who hates women because he won’t go to therapy, but someone we root for, even in the end. In a strange way, it’s nice to see a fictional woman who’s somewhat aggressive. She hits her abusive ex-boyfriend, beats up a catcaller, and more that I can’t say without completely spoiling the book. These aren’t good things to do, especially the events left unsaid, but they’re more than female characters are usually allowed without being immediately turned into villains.

The problem I had with this book was the instability of its narration. Sometimes it would draw a relationship between the reader and the narrator, using words like “we” and “you”, and other times it would ignore this relationship altogether. If Burton was going to have the narrator be its own character, not necessarily as a named person but as an omniscient being, she could have developed that much further than she did. It feels like a missed opportunity or a halfway job to fake depth that was already there.

Still, the book overall is enjoyable. It’s fast paced, despite the fact that for a while, nothing seems to be happening. During these parts, it’s almost fun to live through Louise through Lavinia, which is exactly the kind of logic that got Louise into her mess.