If you enjoyed the demimondaine excesses of The Talented Mr. Ripley, which had beautiful people stretched across the beaches of Positano and the alleys of Venice, you’ll might like Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton. The novel dutifully echoes Patricia Highsmith, and will make a fabulously satirical curtain-raiser to the incoming party-season.
Social Creature tells a story about two young women who live in New York in 2015. Lavinia is an Upper East Side princess, currently taking time off Yale, loves vintage ballgowns from the 30s and has her extravagant lifestyle bankrolled by her parents, who conveniently reside in Europe. Louise juggles several jobs (ghostwriting, tutoring, waitressing) to make her ends (just) meet. They meet as Louise preps Lavinia’s younger sister for her SATs.
Lavinia and Louise become friends. Except that their friendship of course is a mere psychological game from the very start: to Lavinia, Louise is a prop and a cheerleader she can tote around to her endless parties that center in the city’s arts scene (Lavinia’s true relationship seems to be the one she has with her phone.) To Louise, Lavinia is quickly becoming a sponsor and way to access the upper echelons of the New York society. We know from the very beginning on that Lavinia will die. We know from the very beginning that everything will go horribly wrong.
Social Creature is an entertaining snapshot of white privilege in a La La Land. There’s no moral of the story, everybody is beautiful and everybody lives in a bubble far detached from the real world. None of the characters are likeable, their discussions are highly pretentious (especially the opera-scenes are hilarious) and it’s all very, well, Tom Ripley has a party with Jay Gatsby and Daisy plus the gang from the Secret History.
I could only read Social Creature as a satire, but sometimes found that the humour did not quite carry through. As a reader I felt confident in Burton’s hands, because she keeps the story masterfully in check from the beginning. And she plays the obscenely imbalanced relationships, social media obsession and our (my) fascination with the spectacularly over the top Manhattan parties really well.
So yes, read Social Creature for inspiration when you’re planning your next big birthday party or soirée of any other kind. Pairs extremely well with a tart Negroni. I only had a bag of Maltesers, though, but they worked, too.