Everything we post on the internet stays there forever - except all that isn’t said. That is the basis of Calgary based author Vivek Shraya’s new novel, The Subtweet. Shraya is a multi-dimensional artist who’s wide breadth of works includes graphic novel Death Threat, debut play How to Fail as a Popstar, and 2018 Polaris Music Prize winner Part-Time Woman.
The Subtweet is a sharp discussion on the strain of friendships and success in the era of social media. The plot moves as quick as the online world, jumping through the viewpoints of the main characters, Neela Devaki and Rukmini. Neela is a C-level musician, ashamed by the success of the younger Rukmini, wanting to be both a mentor and to step into her own spotlight. While Neela’s work fails to break out of the quiet niche of indie music, Rukmini’s cover of Neela’s Every Song explodes on YouTube, and quickly snowballs into a worldwide tour.
“[Neela] had hoped meeting Rukmini would somehow restore her own power, that maybe, like in a myth, when Rukimi’s mouth opened, Neela’s song would escape and return to her, its rightful owner.”
This book explores friendship and competition as POC artists in an exceedingly white-controlled industry. The characters face internal struggles as they strive to grasp power at the top and to be the POC artist who inspires a generation. While going viral is the ultimate praise online, it is a never-ending demand for more, more, more. Debut works are tentatively accepted with the label “to be watched,” instead of being fully seen as a success in their own right. Rukmini grapples with the entertainment magnifying glass that insinuates that your work has no value until it is followed by another work just as good, or preferably, better.
As Neela and Rukmini’s friendship is marred by constant miscommunication, pointed subtext, and long stretches of silence, the frustration they feel within themselves is matched by the frustration you may feel as you frantically devour each page, wishing you could lock them in a room together to just talk.
Jealousy reigns supreme throughout the story, which serves to raise issues that run rampant in the media industry and have long held a tight leash on women. Neela tells herself to “be wary of codependency” which insists that voices must stand alone, and we must climb over one another to find success. There is the constant threat of there only being room for one woman at the top, an idea that only continues the long history of how women are trained to be selfless, humble, and to not take up too much space. The world can’t handle too many loud, confident women.
This sharp and funny story about the perils of making it as an artist and a woman in a world where one viral video can propel you to success, complicate our relationships, and leaves us questioning when exactly our authentic selves were muzzled. Shraya examines the new creative opportunities that come with the 21st century, where our personal worlds are open to the world, inviting the highs and lows of fame and complicating relationships at a pace so rapid we all have to run to keep up.
I, for one, am choosing to walk, on the lookout for others to link arms with.