Review: ‘A Touch of Jen’ Captures Instagram’s Uncomfortable Social Dynamics


Jen, the beloved figure at the center of Beth Morgan’s debut novel, A touch of Jen, isn’t quite a social media micro-celebrity, but she posts as such nonetheless. A part-time waitress and up-and-coming jewelry designer, her Instagram features the image of a carefree jet-setter, documenting the international trips made possible by the largesse of her boyfriend, Horus, who is so rich that even her “expression is rich and painless, like a royal corpse. Although his posts are composed with the aim of arousing envy, she would likely be annoyed at the degree of devotion they inspire in his former colleague Remy and his hapless girlfriend , Alicia, who put fantasies about Jen at the center of their romance. The book opens with Alicia asking Remy if she should print a photo of Jen’s face to wear over hers while they do the love: “I could make little holes in my eyes.”

This outrageous suggestion is indicative of the novel’s tone, which is both darker and more ironic than other entries in the genre. In Sympathy and Ingrid goes west, this implies that the protagonists’ unbalanced attraction to women they find online is at least in part due to formative trauma; even Spicer’s satirical film plays Ingrid’s grief for her mother in a relatively straightforward fashion. In A touch of Jen, However, Remy appears to have no inner life – a point underscored by the fact that people always ask what her “deal” is – while Alicia is unable to relay her genuinely upsetting personal story other than through the cadence of one. stand-up. comic. “I was actually… one of the youngest bulimic patients in the recovery center! In fact, I deprived myself of so many nutrients during my developmental years that my mom thinks my brain has been permanently damaged! She said at one point, her exclamation marks conveying an uncomfortable levity.

Like Sympathy, Morgan’s novel is full of tactile language — Alicia wants to “decompress [Jen] from top to bottom “, while Remy”[wishes] to sink up to the wrist in his skin ”- but the novel diverges in the way its protagonists meet their prey. When they meet Jen at an Apple Store, it’s a real coincidence, not a coincidence. Jen ends up inviting the couple over for a weekend of surfing at Horus’ vacation home in Montauk, where they are much less successful than Alice and Ingrid at indulging each other. Remy is too taciturn and Alicia too desperate to belong; she doesn’t have “the kind of laughter that makes people feel at ease.” The tension reaches a breaking point when Alicia sleepwalks in Jen and Horus’ bed, wrapping her hands around the first’s neck, Jen claims, in an attempt to choke her. Simultaneously, a mysterious knocking sound draws Remy out of the house, where he thinks he sees “something blue-green and iridescent” reflected in the oddly turbulent water of the pool.

Shaken by the events of the night before, Remy suffers from a surf-induced concussion the next day which seems to temporarily make Jen feel guilty about acknowledging the existence of their old comradeship – either that or she wants to come back to Horus for being insufficiently protective of her. She accompanies him home to heal his injuries, and suddenly Remy has the opportunity to fulfill his wildest Jen-centric fantasies. Only, he does not manage to close the deal; they start to connect, but something is wrong. “He can imagine what they would look like on a screen, but he’s not inside the picture.”

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