cover image Aesthetica


Allie Rowbottom. Soho, $27 (264p) ISBN 978-1-64129-400-3

Rowbottom (Jell-O Girls) delivers a complex and deeply engaging portrayal of a woman looking back on her career as an Instagram model. The narrative fluidly alternates between the near future, when Anna is in her mid-30s, and her rise to influencer status in 2017 at 19. After moving from Houston to Hollywood straight out of high school, she’s quickly scouted by a seedy but famed manager, Jake Alton. Jake and Anna soon begin a sexual relationship that, while consensual, is centered on an uneven power dynamic; he also gives her drugs and talks her into breast implants. At 35, a much-transformed Anna has returned to Hollywood not for a comeback but an undoing. Alone in a hotel room, she drinks wine and pops pills the night before a risky facial procedure called aesthetica, which involves the reversal of her implants and rhinoplasties. “The in-between time,” Anna narrates, “before results are final, is my favorite of any procedure... my body working to heal, my brain acclimating to the bruises and swelling until one day they’re gone and the transformation is complete.” Rowbottom brings as much tension to the story of Jake’s manipulation in Anna’s past as she does to the aesthetica, which Anna knows she might not survive. The subplots are equally rewarding, among them Anna’s inability to save her troubled single mother, and the reappearance of Anna’s childhood best friend, a successful runner who is struggling with anorexia. It all builds to a scorching commentary on society’s blindness toward female pain. Fans of Mary Gaitskill’s work and Black Mirror will flock to this pitch-perfect novel. Agent: Erin Harris, Folio Literary. (Nov.)