Every once in a while, you start into a book not knowing what you are getting yourself into. This is precisely what happened to me when I began reading Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino. Initially, I believed this book to be an analysis on the many ways we humans indulge in our little misconstructions to help us justify our actions and rationalize our behavior. Instead, I found myself reading a well-written and insightful memoir of the author’s life and thoughts about a variety of interesting subjects that are especially relevant to young women. Through the nine essays, the reader is granted peeks into engaging episodes of the author’s life.
Reality TV Me
One essay that stood out to me, in particular, is “Reality TV Me.” In this chapter, Tolentino describes her experience on the fourth season of the reality game show called “Girls v. Boys.” In the show, girls and boys team up against each other to undertake a series of absurd games like racing canoes filled with holes and eating dog food with one’s arms tied behind one’s back all in the pursuit of winning the ultimate cash prize at the end of the competition. Our self-delusions shine most clearly when we are forced to confront the person we are from the ‘third person.’ Watching herself on a reality show, Tolentino is able to recognize how the person she thinks she is actually plays out in real life. Some of her memories of being on set, she admits, are distorted as a result of the way she chooses to remember such events. For example, when something embarrassing happens on the show, Tolentino convinced herself to remember the event in a way to soothe her ego rather than retain the objective reality of the situation. We all (fortunately!) do not have a stack of VHS tapes that force us to confront our self-delusions so clearly, which makes Tolentino’s recount of events certainly an interesting tale.
I Thee Dread
Tolentino ends her series of essays with a lament on marriage with the chapter aptly titled “I Thee Dread.” In this essay, Tolentino notes that she and her boyfriend are in their early 30s, aka the time when everyone seems to be tying the knot or is already celebrating the anniversary of their memorable walks down the aisle, which makes this issue particularly topical.
It is as if Tolentino’s strong opinions on the role of women, popular culture, and even capitalism are introduced just to culminate on her views of marriage. Marriage has a long and complex history. In her essay “Pure Heroines,” Tolentino describes how female protagonists in Victorian literature feared that they would lose their independence and joie de vivre once they said “I do” to their betrothed. Marriage was once “the end,” which meant that for better or for worse and ‘til death do you part, you are a party to this sacred and indivisible union. The indelibility of marriage, however, is not why Tolentino is dubious about the institution. It is rather the explicit inequality that marriage has burdened women with for much of its existence that gives the author pause about entering into such a union. Until 1922, a woman was required to take the citizenship of her husband and give up her own upon marriage. Until 1972, a married woman was compelled to take her husband’s last name at nuptials. Until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, wives required their husbands’ signatures for their personal credit card applications, but (surprise, surprise) husbands needed no such permission. Finally, it was not until 1993 that marital rape was considered a crime in all 50 states (which of course can happen to both genders but women are 14 times more likely to be victims of rape). Luckily, marriage has changed in many beautiful ways! However, weddings have also become exorbitantly expensive and overly symbolic endeavors in recent decades, which is another reason for Tolentino’s skepticism.
In addition to the above essays, Tolentino also discusses religion, politics, rape culture, and the role of women in society through vignettes of her life as well as important moments in popular culture. Even if you are not a fan of memoirs, you may enjoy her retellings of stories that briefly and violently captured the attention of the nation over the past few decades including Billy McFarland’s, infamous for the Fyre Festival scam that stranded thousands of Millennials in the Bahamas in 2017 and the University of Virginia ‘gang rape’ in 2014 that made headlines when the Rolling Stones article detailing the case turned out to be loaded with false information.
This book was – wow! I did not expect such depth or detail to what I essentially mistook as a self-help book. If you are a fan of essay books, pop-culture, feminism, literature or just books that make you think, do consider picking up a copy of Trick Mirror, it just might surprise you!