Plastered in Pretty by N.C. Marks is a journey into the ugliness of social media that has been published by House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP). The author is keen on exploring vulnerabilities and insecurities of people living in a social media world according to a perceived sense of public acceptance.
Marks intrigues with her fast-paced writing style. She compels us to take a closer look at the outrageousness of the cyberspace content that we perceive as entertainment but may be more about egotism or even naiveté. Most of the people in Plastered in Pretty are slaves to cellphones and tablets, which become like appendages.
In what has already been called a “dystopian” Caribbean world of this short novel, these digital appendages eliminate the need for human interaction. The most basic or intimate conversation is held via WhatsApp or by whatever device is available, even when we are in the same room of our house, office, or other social or work space.
The main character in Plastered in Pretty has no name. I thought I had missed it in my first breathless reading. So I re-read the book. The young woman protagonist was indeed nameless. Is Marks suggesting that she has no “real-life” identity? Is the author leaving us to wonder if, in real life, she actually knows this troubling and strangely relatable character?
The no-name one, who happens to be a civil servant in the dubious Department X, uses whatever assets she possesses and employs any action necessary to obtain her personal wants and desires, to serve her online persona as her only real self.
The lavish lifestyle that she achieves is via her social media contacts. The contacts, who are also about self-aggrandizement based mostly on figments of their own imagination, are attracted hungrily to the posts of her “pics,” which depict her as stunning and affluent. Her album of selfies shows her off in Paris, shopping, sightseeing.
Her face is strictly, almost religiously, made up from the stuff of cosmetic jars, bottles, tubes, brushes, and all the other additives that metamorphose an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. Marks achieved a literary (maybe literal?) take on the classic verse from Bob Marley’s “Pimper’s Paradise”: “every need got an ego to feed.”
In Plastered in Pretty, social media dictates that the young woman cannot repeat (or be in a selfie) wearing the same outfit, ever. She has to keep buying expensive clothes and posting herself dressed in the new national, then exclusively in the foreign, designer clothes. The more “Likes” she gets, the greater the adrenalin rush and more spending power is required to keep up appearances.
With her existence depending totally on the validation of online “friends” and “likes,” she became a brand whore.
This “pretty” character fashioned by Marks, a digital, world-ambitious social media-driven climber, appears at once to be clueless and at other times to be without conscience when committing unsavory acts—such as her “meeting” in the government minister’s office with his “mysterious snake”—to finance or advance a rich and famous self-image. And just when we think we’re about to see a glimmer of regret or conscience, she finds justification for her actions. Most of the men who finance her make-believe lifestyle were met online in her island community.
The gullibility of men is depicted in the way how “a pretty face” is all that it takes for them to let their guard down and to believe all that “meets the eye” (in this case on Facebook and other social media). But without any reserve to political correctness, Marks also manages to eke out Internet intrigue by various genders and “name” shadowy figures lurking on social media, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey.
The online image of the young woman is often the target of intrigue and betrayal. Her body has also been left bloodied and bruised on more than one occasion.
With every image and comment posted from her desk computer at Department X or from her cellphone—including her post about her mother’s death by fire—the main character is foremost and desperately seeking a “Like” from her “friends.” There are a couple of instances where she might make the reader’s jaw hit the ground (rolls eyes) with her responses to social media friends, who for the most part are logged in for the comess or comic relief, and to spread the news (especially if it’s tragic) a little faster.
Near the end, having used up her assets for fleeting material gain, social upward mobility with who Marks identifies as “Persons with Pedigree,” and a twisted eleventh-hour promotion in the workplace, she is left wondering what’s next. She eventually marries one of her cyber conquests who, quite accidently, and to his sheer horror, witnesses when the makeup on her face, her mask, falls off, and the book’s most macabre consequences are about to follow.
Marks’ caustic wit matches perfectly her use of language, poignant in its simplicity, to serve up a “no long talk” storytelling for a range of readers to relish. This makes Plastered in Pretty a startling and enjoyable fiction.
From another vantage point, the story highlights aspects within the digital world and social media that act cumulatively as a scourge on human life and interaction. This second point of view makes the novel, without being the least preachy, available for meaningful, cross-generational discussions on the current and potential impact of social media devices and content on the quality of human communication.
Plastered in Pretty is a must-read.
Laverne Velox is an avid reader and retired banker from St. Vincent & The Grenadines.