Nothing is debated quite so much as social media. Whether that’s the latest app emerging into the zeitgeist, discussions about bots and AI representation, or the weekly scandals that seem to bloom about one beloved social media star or another, everyone, whether they’re on social media or not, has an opinion on it and its effects.
Such forms the core of writer Irene Graziosi’s novel The Other Profile, from Europa Editions, which takes a searing look at social media through the eyes of someone at first tangentially – and then instrumentally – involved within a social media rising star. Think of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation combined with the acerbic film Ingrid Goes West, in which Aubrey Plaza’s social-media obsessive infiltrates the life of Elizabeth Olsen’s too-good-to-be-true Insta-influencer.
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At the heart of the novel is Maia, a disaffected mid-twentysomething who is dealing with a terminal case of malaise and a quarter-life crisis. Prompted by her older boyfriend, she lies her way into a job as the social media svengali to teen influencer Gloria who is a positive social media maven despite still attending high school. Their friendship, spiky and deceitful yet startlingly honest in some startling ways, drives The Other Profile and allows Graziosi to explore the themes she finds most fascinating.
Graziosi hones in on the artifice behind social media and the mosaic-like portraits it constructs of individuals. A social media post about a bereaved pet creates sympathy and compassion; another post radiates glamour with carefully-curated shots of beautiful dresses and beaches. Graziosi peers beneath these carefully-built constructs to examine what growing up in the era of social media does to an individual’s psyche, their relationships with others, and their developing self-esteem.
While none of the characters in The Other Profile are particularly likeable, there exists an uncomfortable relatability beneath their skins – who hasn’t seen a perfect image of someone on a beach living their best life and felt incandescently envious, even for a moment? Graziosi even extends this out of social media – on an ill-fated hiking trip Maia laments that her companion Francesca “[has] the luxury of occupying oneself with the least useful thing in the world: beauty”.
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What follows is a toxic exploration of the ugliness lying beneath the surface of human emotions, whether that’s jealousy, cruelty, or grief, and while the actual plot of the novel is rather shallow and doesn’t take as many creative swings as one might wish, Graziosi is unafraid to dig deeper into her characters and excavate long-buried traumas, turning transformation into destruction, and vice versa.
A solid and succinct novel that’s focus on social media proves darkly illuminating, The Other Profile is a short, breezy summer read and perhaps a perfect tome for anyone struggling to connect with a loved one who is engaged too deeply with social media or worried that their follower count dictates their inner worth… although you can like, retweet, and follow us on Twitter just to be safe…
The Other Profile is out now from Europa Editions.