Remy and Alicia, a couple of insecure service workers, are not particularly happy together–but they are bound by a shared obsession with Jen, a beautiful former co-worker of Remy’s who now seems to be following her bliss as a globe-trotting jewelry designer. In and outside the bedroom, Remy and Alicia’s entire relationship revolves around fantasies of Jen, whose every Instagram caption, outfit, and New Age mantra they know by heart.
Imagine their confused excitement when they run into Jen, in the flesh, and she invites them on a surfing trip to the Hamptons with her wealthy boyfriend and their group. Once there, Remy and Alicia try (a little too hard) to fit into Jen’s exalted social circle, but violent desire and class resentment bubble beneath the surface of this beach-side paradise, threatening to erupt. As small disturbances escalate into outright horror, Remy and Alicia tumble into an uncanny alternate reality, one shaped by their most unspeakable, deviant, and intoxicating fantasies. Is this what “self-actualization” looks like?
Part millennial social comedy, part psychedelic horror, and all wildly entertaining, A Touch of Jen is a sly, unflinching examination of the hidden drives that lurk just outside the frame of our carefully curated selves.
There are some things about Beth Morgan’s debut novel, A Touch of Jen, that make it very polarizing. The story can be broken down in many different ways, from many different angles, because this is a journey more than a story. Split into four parts, the sections all have a different feel, as if the story is parts of an Instagram scroll. The first part is an introduction to Remy and Alicia, a couple who are obsessed with Jen’s Instagram page, Jen being someone who Remy used to work with. The relationship between Remy and Alicia shows that there is a great deal of connection, almost with some borderline codependency tendencies that could be unhealthy. The second part is about a trip Remy and Alicia take with Jen and her friends. This section delves into Remy and Alicia as individuals, some of the weird things that they feel and the way that they interact in social settings. This section makes us understand that these aren’t normal and healthy people. Part three is where it all starts to fall apart in earnest. And Part four is a horror novel.
Many readers probably find the first two parts uninteresting with boring people doing boring things, but I liked these parts for what they were just as much as I liked the ending for what it was. The main focus of Remy, Alicia, and Jen really make for a tense and sometimes one sided love triangle that honestly reeks of unhealthy connections. I didn’t like any of these characters, but I also liked that I did not like them. Remy is just like that one prick that we all know who is cruel and negative about everything, Alicia is the girl who is hanging on the arm of the worst man in the room, and Jen is the fake on social media that really does not have as good of a life as she pretends. When all of this is added up, it feels like a quirky, depressing, and subtly insane indie movie, like something by Miranda July or Yorgos Lanthimos.. It is easy to compare this novel to one of these films because there is a cinematic quality to the whole thing.
I liked that the novel breaks really are breaks. From part one to part four, A Touch of Jen is a completely different novel. Beth Morgan really puts space in the story, and the directions that it goes do not fit together perfectly. This makes A Touch of Jen one of those novels that I will remember structurally as well as for the content. I do not know if I can recommend this to any reader, but there is definitely a group of readers that will find this novel to be one of the must read books of the year.