Veneer by Angela Jariwala | Contemporary Fiction | Self-Published | 284 pages | Review by Kerine Wint
Few topics fascinate me more than social media and mental health, and more specifically, how one affects the other. In Angela Jariwala’s Veneer, she offers a hefty presentation of the interconnectedness of the two and disconnect that happens when you have a device and easy access to the Internet. Through the perspectives of our protagonists, Amy, Jade, Nayna, and Dmitry, we get insight into the effects of how anti-social social media can really be. When Amy’s husband mysteriously goes missing, the four characters’ lives converge and clash as they get lost inside their screens.
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It is Amy and her husband, John’s, twenty-fifth anniversary, Amy is getting ready for what should be a romantic night but John never comes home. We get to know that Amy not only through her fears of where her husband could be but through the updates on her Facebook status. Whilst getting ready for their date, it becomes painfully obvious that what plagues Amy’s mind just as much, if not more than their date, is how much her status update is being liked, loved, and commented on. This behaviour is mirrored in her niece, Jade, who is obsessed with online engagement without any real concern for the things that are actually happening around her. Her eyes are constantly glued to her phone – checking like-to-follower ratios and comments on all of her posts. Jade’s need to be an influencer and impress the guy she likes online hits close to home. Jariwala presents the paranoia and self-criticism that comes with internalizing the opinions of others and transposing it for self-worth.
Nayna and Dmitry, on the other hand, have very different relationships with social media, which balance out the experiences with social media shown in the novel. Nayna is the council’s social media coordinator and purposely uses the various platforms to directly communicate with people about their concerns. She deliberately uses it as a means to an end. Dmitry avoids it altogether, not seeing the appeal or need for social media, even though he works as an IT specialist. What works so wonderfully in this story is that even with the characters’ varying degrees of social media involvement, as the plot progresses, we see that they are all interconnected in very simple ways that they have never noticed before.
Veneer does a skillful job of showing how most of us use social media to keep our daily lives interesting, but, how, in actuality, it ends up becoming another monotonous part of our routine. The reality for Amy and Jade is that their phones are with them almost twenty-four seven. It was a bit unnerving to see, written out so clearly, all the ways even I walk around cradling my phone – almost like a lifeline, I’d perish without.
Day In, Day Out
As the mystery of John’s disappearance unfolds and more people in the community get involved, some matters become shockingly clear. One major point that becomes evident is that we should pay attention to the well-wishers who only wish well on timelines but never in person. Many times, Amy reflects on how many of her “friends” only choose to write publicly on her timeline to wish her well. They supposedly offer help in the search for her husband but never get around to calling or visiting her.
In Nayna and Dmitry, we see how avoiding and limiting social media does not actually prevent people from being stuck in bad real-life encounters. It was so easy to root for the two because from the outside looking in, they had their priorities in check but Jariwala challenges that by magnifying their inability to properly relate to others around them or even take action against toxic behaviours directed towards them, particularly by Dmitry’s mother and Monte, a man Nayna met on an online dating site. The depictions of these characters were so vivid and personable in this story. Even as more minor characters were introduced, everyone felt distinct and purposeful – they fit into the larger purpose of the story and were realistic.
We’re All Connected
Though Veneer explores the distress associated with trying to connect with others online – from meeting “intellectual” men who just express their racist views through microaggressions to being bullied by people who just want to see if you’d give up on your passion – it also reminds us to appreciate the people who are always around you day-to-day; the people you can touch, see, and feel.
Veneer also does a great job of examining mental health throughout the novel. It looks at all of the unspoken manifestations and decline in mental health that can go unnoticed in people because it is now the norm to be connected with everyone but yourself – from the anxiety that grows from not being liked enough or senselessly hated, to the actual mental health conditions that can be worsened because of feeling insignificant in the overwhelm of other people’s thoughts and lives.
In Veneer, Angela Jariwala, engages us in the mystery of a missing man to help us learn to put down the screens and truly think about what we are missing in ourselves.
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