The Hamilton Spectator

Alt Account

A debut novel about a social media influencer’s spiraling assistant.

- By LOVIA GYARKYE THE OTHER PROFILE LOVIA GYARKYE, formerly an associate editor at The New York Times Magazine Labs, is a critic at The Hollywood Reporter.

KEVIN SYSTROM, A founder of Instagram, recently confessed that the platform he helped create had lost its soul. Gone are the days when friends and family shared

By Irene Graziosi

Translated by Lucy Rand Europa. 222 pp. $27.

photos with earnest and eager passion. Now, influencer­s reign supreme. No one is real. It’s “terrifying,” Systrom said on the journalist Kara Swisher’s podcast. “It’s this race to the bottom of who can be the most perfect.”

Maia, the sharp-tongued protagonis­t of Irene Graziosi’s debut novel, “The Other Profile,” already knows this. She thinks of Instagram profiles like vision boards — evidence of aspiration, not reflection­s of reality. Her own page counters the trend with an ascetic banality. She prefers not to be perceived.

Maia’s a depressed graduate school dropout living in Milan with her boyfriend, Filippo. He was a professor at the university where she was enrolled, and their courtship was a sweaty encounter of grief (Maia’s, after the death of her sister) and desperatio­n (his). Now, their relationsh­ip is sustained by mutual ambivalenc­e. Filippo wishes Maia would do more than eat gummy bears and watch Olivia Benson solve crimes on TV. Maia hates that Filippo dragged her away from Paris and into a city where he is respected and she is unknown.

Maia eventually gets a job — first as a bartender and then as an assistant to an influencer named Gloria, a teenager with millions of Instagram followers. It turns out “assistant” is a conservati­ve take on what she’s asking Maia to do. “I’ll need someone who can help me in the public transition from being a high schooler to being … something else,” Gloria tells her. As part of the job, Maia not only recommends books, writes speeches and composes social media captions, she is also expected to be Gloria’s soul.

Graziosi, the founder of a cultural YouTube channel and magazine, is particular­ly attuned to the language of the chronicall­y online. Her novel, which is translated from the Italian by Lucy Rand, is at its most nimble when Maia observes influencer culture. The sponsored events, brand meetings and vague clichés about self-love are fodder for her acerbic judgments and acid humor. Gloria’s world is filled with frauds and Maia loves to call them out.

The pair’s relationsh­ip enters dangerous territory when Maia finds herself first obsessed with, and then consumed by, Gloria. A mandate issued by Gloria’s manager about her client still haunts me: “You have to give her a personalit­y,” she tells Maia. “That’s how she works; she’s an empty vessel.” As Gloria extracts more and more from Maia, I kept waiting for the novel to make good on the suggestion of psychologi­cal thrill. But the stakes of Maia and Gloria’s increased mutual dependence hardly simmer. Graziosi divides attention between this parasitic bond, Maia’s failing relationsh­ip with Filippo and how Maia mourns her sister Eva.

Graziosi tries to knit these threads together to add layers of suspense and mystery, but her language struggles to keep up with the demands of the story. There’s an overrelian­ce on direct exposition to carry us through scenes, which undercuts the charm and acuity of Maia’s wry voice in the novel’s early pages. It also softens any tension. Impatience creeps in as nervy prose is replaced with colorless revelation­s like: “I’m sometimes caught out by how much I’ve changed, even since the previous week. I can’t say precisely what these changes are.”

“The Other Profile” lumbers around, depriving us of specificit­y as it submits to cliché. By the end, I wondered what Maia, with her lacerating opinions, would think of this fate. How she might feel to know that the intensity of her relationsh­ip with Gloria had been tempered by the same hazy sentiments she once mocked. Maybe she’d shrug or, considerin­g the way Systrom now feels about Instagram, maybe she’d find it kind of terrifying.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada