Cassandra Atherton reviews 'Rubik' by Elizabeth Tan

Cassandra Atherton reviews 'Rubik' by Elizabeth Tan


by Elizabeth Tan

Brio, $29.99 pb, 328 pp, 9781925143478

Invoking the Rubik’s Cube – a puzzle where twenty-six ‘cubelets’ rotate around a core crosspiece – Rubik is less a novel and more a book of interconnected short stories exploring narcissism, neoliberalism, and consumerism. At the book’s core is Elena Rubik, who dies in the first chapter with a Homestyle Country Pie in her hand. Despite her demise, Elena remains the protagonist of the novel via her robust digital footprint: people write ‘condolence messages on her profile ... express[ing] their grief in 420 characters or less’, weekly newsletters amass in her inbox, she endures as a contact in her friend’s mobile phone directory, and her comments remain on internet forums. Elizabeth Tan responds to the cube’s solution of returning all sides to a uniformity of colour by emphasising the isolation, despair, and quotidian nihilism at the heart of contemporary society’s obsession with competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

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Published in November 2017, no. 396
Cassandra Atherton

Cassandra Atherton

Cassandra Atherton is a poet and scholar.  She is a Harvard Visiting Fellow in English in 2015-2016.

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