This year things began looking up, and my bank account stopped crying, when libraries reopened and I didn’t have to succumb to buying every book I was interested in. Last week, I picked up Beth Morgan’s debut novel A Touch of Jen from the library last week. I, like many, am drawn to unique book covers, especially when they’re pink. I don’t know why – maybe some of you color theorists out there can help me out – but pink always grabs my attention.
Of course, a great cover can only get so far until you have to read the actual book. I briefly skimmed through the synopsis because I just wanted to see whether this was worth getting into. Just the beginning sentence, “Remy and Alicia, a couple of insecure service workers, are not particularly happy together” was intriguing. As I started reading the first page, A Touch of Jen sucked me and, two days and 300 pages later, mercilessly spat me back out.
Remy and Alicia are a millennial couple with bills, debt, and an unhealthy obsession of a woman named Jen. You can describe Jen as an Instagram Influencer who makes jewelry and travels so much she screams trust fund baby. Much to Remy’s dismay, Jen is dating a wealthy man named Horus who has a painfully ironic lack of self-awareness.
Jen invites Remy and Alicia to join her, Horus and a gaggle of other friends on a surfing trip to the Hamptons, where chaos painfully progresses, leading up to a horrific, Lovecraftian climax.
“Now she looks like a hot shark.”
Morgan’s prose is captivating from the getgo. Her writing is quirky, fitting with the eccentricity of Remy and Alicia’s unique relationship. Each chapter ebbs and flows with vibrant, brief descriptions that add color and unease to the story. Everyone, even the most minor characters, are complicated and difficult; they are true reflections of what it is to live in our social media driven world.
A Touch of Jen can be classified as a horror dramedy. The events that take place, and the way Morgan illustrates them, are ridiculous. Several times I found myself laughing out loud in the most uncomfortable places. While the drama and comedy portions are strong, what I struggled with was the horror aspect of the novel.
Morgan does well to build tension, creating a mindset of “what’s going to happen next” throughout the book. There are atypical horror elements involving a nuanced, gruesome take on the dangers of consuming social media. When we get to the climax, there are sudden cosmic events that take over and drown the story. The buildup to the horror could have been stronger and there could have been less reliance on allegory. However, even when things get messy, Morgan’s writing is vibrant and hypnotic until the last sentence.
A Touch of Jen is an inventive and immersive novel that plays with common horror tropes in a unique, twisted way. It is gruesome, beautiful, cringeworthy, intoxicating. Despite issues that prevent the story from being the best it could be, it is a whirlwind of a book worth reading.(4 / 5)
Check out what else we’re reading here at Haunted MTL.