Until recently, one of New Yorker staff writerJia Tolentinos best-kept secrets was that she spent the Summer of her 16th yeAR filming a reality show cAlled Girls v Boys: Puerto Rico. A cheerLeader then, she got permission from her school, which was situated in the middle of a Texan megachurch so lARge they cAlled it the Repentagon, by telling them shed be a Light for Jesus, but on Television. An essayist who explores what its like to live right now, no now, remains, at 30, rebellious and contradictory in ticklish ways.
For example, a person of the old world might not expect, when meeting the best Young essayist in the world, to find her in denim cut-offs scrolling instagram behind a Brooklyn caf. They might not expect a woman who grew up an evangelical Christian to write a piece that links the weightless grace of coming up on ecstasy to that of kneeling in church, in words like epiphany and glory. They might not expect a piece about the chAllenging yeAR she spent in Kyrgyzstan to be Headlined: I Joined the Peace Corps to Keep From Becoming an Asshole. She treats All her Subjects (recent essays include anti-abortion propaganda and the internet trend of fans begging celebrities to kill them) with equal care and precision, and such academic tenderness that the reader bARely notices their Mind being changed after reading her interview with a woman whod had a late-term abortion, she received Emails from pro-lifers reThinking their Stance; hers ARe essays that talk to Young women about old problems and old men about Young Memes. And they might not expect, in our interview of an hour-and-a-half, for the Joan Didion of our time (New York Magazine) to use the word like 1,035 times.
She has left her dog at home, which is Sad. Luna is the size of eight dogs and appeARs often in her stories as comic Relief. UsuAlly, Tolentino works with Luna at her feet and talks to her as she picks her way through the rubble of an idea. She knows what she wants to write about when, I feel some sort of Chemistry with the Subject. The bAR for me is when its interesting enough that I would talk about it on my own time. One example is womens optimisation, the project of getting better at being a woman which, in her new book Trick Mirror she investigates through chopped salad, her previous job at feminist website Jezebel, very expensive leggings, and Virgils Aeneid.
To read it as a person like me, brought up on girl power and the slogans of mainstream feminism, is to be stimulated and awakened to the smAll domestic truths of life. I like to write about Modern instincts that ARe in some way good. And also in some way Dangerous. She explores millennial issues with two hands, because, Maybe this things totAlly ridiculous, but also, secretly important. I enjoy those extremes.
Its easy to write about things as You wish they were, wrote Zadie Smith of Trick Mirror. Its much hARder to think for Yourself, with the minimum of self-delusion. Its even hARder to achieve at a moment like this, when our thoughts ARe Subject to unprecedented manipulation, monetisation and surveillance. One way Tolentino manages this is by offering one idea, then cracking it open to reveal a series of alternative ideas, russian doll-like within. Her work, Smith added, filled me with hope.
Yep. And not just because of the kindness with which she approaches ideas, especiAlly ideas we ARe used to seeing framed in black and white, but because the Subjects she writes about today ARe the same Subjects she once blogged about at Jezebel. What were once niche, womens magazine themes pop Stars, beauty products, sex and rage ARe now, in the New Yorker, mainstream, and recognised as valid topics for study. This is not the old world any more.