It’s hard for me to write an unbiased review of a Vivek Shraya book because I’m in awe of her: everything she’s accomplished, the marginalized groups she advocates for, and the seemingly limitless talents she possesses all come together to create one amazing lady. Also her hair always looks FABULOUS. I’m not sure how she accomplishes everything; she’s an assistant professor at the University of Calgary, a musician, she has her own publishing imprint and she’s an author with a steady output, and what’s more, she does all these things well! Anyway, I jumped at the chance to read her newest book The Subtweet, and in addition to teaching me what a subtweet is I really enjoyed reading this quick little dive into social media mayhem.
Neela Devaki is a musician living in Toronto, and one of her songs is covered by another woman Rukmini, a newly internet-famous musician who specializes in covers. They embark on a tenuous friendship, made complicated by the fact that Rukmini is going on tour and hardly available, so the majority of their conversations happen over text, which as we all kno, is a hotbed of misunderstanding, especially for those who don’t have years of history to fall back on. Feelings are hurt, texts are ignored, and in a fit of frustration Neela subtweets Rukmini, setting off a firestorm of gossip that threatens to ruin Rukmini’s career.
It’s ironic (am I using this word correctly? I never know) that the woman on the cover is on the telephone, because if one of the characters had simply called the other, and talked on the phone on a regular basis, the conflict would have been solved within a few short conversations rather than a complicated back and forth that spans months. But this book is about more than crossed wires or mixed signals, it highlights the challenges that people of colour face in the music industry. When Rukmini goes on tour to open for a very popular white singer, it calls into question who she’s playing music for, who she writes her songs for, and whether or not she’s trying to change her image as an Indian woman, to make it more palatable for a white audience. There’s also a thread of academic influence woven throughout, using feminist terms and concepts coined in a classroom and demonstrating the difficulty of taking those same ideas out into the real world. As someone who studied English literature in university, I could relate to this struggle.
Something else that I really enjoyed about this book is that it takes a deep dive into a strictly platonic friendship. It’s not about women trying to find themselves in relation to a man, or a lover of any kind; it’s just about a friendship, and how past relationships can affect the way you connect with future friends. This is a topic that isn’t dealt with enough in fiction, because romantic relationships always seem to take precedence, which is not only unfair, but unrealistic. Both Neela and Rukmini are single, they remain single throughout the book, and they don’t embark on some sort of quest to change that fact: they are single, the end. And what’s more, there is no explanation for why they are single, they just…are. Hurrah! I felt like this book was a step forward for all women everywhere for this fact alone.
As I said at the beginning of this review, The Subtweet is a quick and fun read. It’s introspective enough to keep you thinking long after you’re done reading, but it’s light enough to race through in a few days. I also recommend listening to the accompanying music that Vivek wrote, in fact, doing this before you even begin reading will undoubtedly enrich the experience.
How refreshing that the women didn’t have to be portrayed in relation to men! This sounds excellent.
It is really fun, again, published by a small publisher so may be difficult to find in the US. Also, I didn’t mention this in my review but Vivek is actually a trans writer, and I believe Rukmini and Neela made me trans as well, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it in the book so I didn’t want to either…
Such a well-written review, Anne. And, P.S., I think your hair always looks pretty fab, too.
Aw that’s so kind of you to say Cathy! I never wash my hair b/c I’m lazy, and my friends make fun of me for it always being so greasy LOL but maybe you just see me when I’ve actually made the effort to wash it! xo
Thanks for pointing out that the author doesn’t throw in a random romance to “spice” things up. I’ve read so few books about adult female friendships that don’t circulate around what their boyfriends are doing (looking at you, Sex and The City).
EXACTLY. Female friendships are interesting enough on their own I think. I should mention that Rukmini and Neela (or at least one of them) is trans, as is the author Vivek. But she only mentions it once, quickly in the book so I didn’t want to make my review focus on it.
Good call. She’s just a person living her life!
you get it 🙂
Refreshing to have a book about friendship rather than romance. Since most of us only have romance (maximum) at any given time, but hopefully more than one friend, then it is strange that books deal with friendship so rarely. And yes, why don’t people pick up the phone and talk to each other any more???
I so prefer talking on the phone, but I know that’s rare for people my age 🙂
Yes, I agree she always looks fabulous! I’ve enjoyed some of her earlier books but I’m not making a dash for this one. Still, it was fun to read your thoughts all the same.
I still can’t decide if I want to read this, but I do like the idea of mixed signals and crossed wires. Those are very LMM-ish (L.M. Montgomery). I wonder what she would make of all this new technology and how she’d incorporate it into her stories?
Ohh that’s an interesting comparison!