“Biting and beautiful. ” — Jonny Sun, author of everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too
Everyone talks about falling in love, but falling in friendship can be just as captivating. When Neela Devaki’s song is covered by internet-famous artist Rukmini, the two musicians meet and a transformative friendship begins.
But as Rukmini’s star rises and Neela’s stagnates, jealousy and self-doubt creep in. With a single tweet, their friendship implodes, one career is destroyed, and the two women find themselves at the center of an internet firestorm.
Celebrated multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya’s second novel is a stirring examination of making art in the modern era, a love letter to brown women, an authentic glimpse into the music industry, and a nuanced exploration of the promise and peril of being seen.
Vivek Shraya is an artist whose body of work crosses the boundaries of music, literature, visual art, theatre, and film. Her books include I'm Afraid of Men, The Subtweet, even this page is white, She of the Mountains, Death Threat, and The Boy & the Bindi, and her album with Queer Songbook Orchestra, Part-Time Woman, was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize. She is one half of the music duo Too Attached and the founder of the Arsenal Pulp Press imprint VS. Books. A six-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, Vivek was a Pride Toronto Grand Marshal, was featured on The Globe and Mail's Best Dressed list, and has received honours from the Writers' Trust of Canada and the Publishing Triangle. She is a director on the board of the Tegan and Sara Foundation and an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Calgary.
Neela Devaki was an original.
She was reminded of this fact shortly after she stepped out of her cab and into the Fairmont Hotel, the main site for the North by Northeast Festival. Zipping through the masses of musicians, fans and industry reps, she felt sorry for the chandeliers, which loomed above like golden flying saucers, forced to light up the dull networking that buzzed beneath them. But a conversation between two art students, draped in curated thrift wear featuring strategically placed rips and holes, brought Neela to a reluctant halt.
“I was totally working on something like this for my final project. I guess originality really is dead,” one of the women sighed, taking photos of herself, duck-faced with a pop-up art installation.
Neela skimmed the artist’s statement. The frosted toothpick statues of penises were “a comment on the current global epidemic of white demasculinization. ” Why not just hang a red and white flag that said Make Art Great Again? Brevity was the true endangered species.
“You should still do it. All the good ideas are taken anyways. Isn’t that kind of freeing?” replied the other.
Neela snorted. She would never offer that sort of “comfort” to a stunted peer. No wonder she was bored with most of the art she encountered.
She considered sharing with these young women that she always knew she was on the verge of invention at the precise moment when originality felt impossible. That instead of surrendering to despair, she would needle in and out and through her brain until an idea surfaced — naked, stripped of predictability and familiarity. That this process often required her to sing a phrase over and over for hours until the syllables carved their own unique melody out of hollow air. She was certain that the reiteration planted the words in her vocal chords so that when she sang them, they carried the imprint of her body. By embedding herself into her song, she muted any risk of passing off mimicry as art. Why wasn’t fully committing to creation more desirable than observing what everyone else was doing and doing the same?
But defending the sanctity of originality to strangers at an art exhibit would make her seem like an egomaniac. And no one listens to a cocksure woman.
“The Subtweet takes the topic of online life and allows it to become simply part of the lives of its fully human, complex characters. What emerges is a deeply moving tale about the relationships between artists and friends. Biting and beautiful, it’s written with heart by an essential voice. ” — Jonny Sun, author of Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too
“So engaging. I can’t think of anything I’ve read that has captured Twitter culture so well. There is something special in this book that really touches on the absurdity and pressure of social media and art. I couldn’t put it down. ” — Sara Quin, of Tegan and Sara
“The Subtweet is a smart, funny, incisive, heart-crushing interrogation of art, race, friendship, social media, and the music industry. These characters and their self-destructive self-doubt are compelling, real, and vivid. I wanted to live-tweet my reading because I’m just obsessed. ” — Andrea Warner, author of Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography
“A subtle mystery — it captures the adrenaline-filled strange alienation and over-visibility of social media, the sedimentations of racism, and the vicissitudes of female friendship. This is a literary novel as well as a hyper-contemporary one. I literally gasped. ” — Erin Wunker, author of Notes from a Feminist Killjoy