Title: Social Creature
Author: Tara Isabella Burton
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Length: 288 p.
Publishing Date: 5 June 2018
The first time I saw the movie Black Swan with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, I was astounded, scared, and even inspired by how far the boundaries of psychological thrillers could be pushed. I needed to find some book equivalent to the way the movie made me feel, how it made me question my own perception of my reality, my own morals, and my even own ambition. When I requested Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature from NetGalley to review, I was a little hesitant. Normally well-reviewed thrillers fall short on the psychological twists that keep me hooked to the very last page. But Social Creature didn’t just keep me hooked to the last page: I was deep into this book until the very last word.
Told from the point of view of an omniscient unnamed narrator, we follow twenty-nine year old Louise as she gets swept up in the extravagant social life of twenty-three year old Lavinia. A chance meeting — an unnecessary tutoring session for Lavinia’s younger sister that turns into an all-night babysitting job — sweeps Louise up in the tidal wave of Lavinia’s influence. It’s hard not to: she’s wild, free, beautiful, privileged, and has a seemingly limitless bank account. She is, and has, everything Louise is not, does not have. When someone extends a hand and invites you into the mouth of the rabbit hole it’s hard to say no. Not that Lavinia takes no for an answer. Ever. From Louise’s perspective, people like Lavinia have earned, or somehow deserve, the privilege to be above hearing no. Any door Lavinia wants opened does. Anything she wants, she gets. Louise, on the other hand, is poor, working multiple jobs, living in a city that’s just a constant reminder of everything she’s failed to become. That someone like Lavinia even looks at her makes Louise feel special — and that’s really all Louise needs to feel in order to shift her entire life around Lavinia’s. What neither of them know is that there’s a time limit on just this time together, but life itself.
And when, six months from now, Lavinia dies, she will be thinking exactly of this night, and of the stars, and of the sea. Louise will know this. She will be there.Tara Isabella Burton, Social creature
With Lavinia’s death coming closer and closer with each page, there’s a palpable bass-line of tension woven in through the constant stream of people, parties, bars, speakeasies, private clubs, drinking, drugs, and dancing. The more Louise is pulled into Lavinia’s world, the easier it is to leave everything she has, and everything she was, behind. A The Secret History for the social media age, Social Creature circles closer and closer around the idea that not only is (conventional) beauty is terrifying because of how powerful it can be. What Louise fears is losing being around Lavinia, being part of this life — losing everything. After all, what did she do to deserve someone like Lavinia to take her in? To Louise, Lavinia is unstoppable, untouchable, mythological, invincible. If Louise is the Richard of this The Secret History, Lavinia is a combination of Henry, Charles, and Camilla on a cocaine-fueled mania trip, careening towards the edge of a cliff. And like with Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature is a story of love and hate, lust and power, and the blurred lines between not just friendships but identities, too.
Here’s the thing: there’s only so much you can lie to yourself. You can blunt instinct, if you want to — you can drink too much, you can laugh and smile and reapply your lipstick and say let us get drunk, on poetry and virtue, you can pretend to be a human being, a little while — but in the end, you are what you are.Tara Isabella Burton, Social Creature
The exploration of identity, of those blurred lines between people and relationships, between platonic and romantic love, between love and power of one’s own actions, how that love can be weaponized is what makes Social Creature such a compelling read. What I was left with at the end of the book was what the line between fixation and obsession is (if it even exists) and what (if any) actions are understandable (justifiable?) when the object of your fixation suddenly vanishes.