... a satirical, ferocious, shape-shifting novel ... As their behavior escalates, the shape of the novel distorts and expands, until what started as an acerbic millennial sex comedy grows the gnashing mandibles of supernatural horror with a spiritual self-help twist. The structure is unconventional and disorienting, but Morgan manages each breakneck turn without spinning out of control. There’s an almost fanatically concrete simplicity to her prose that makes the storytelling absurd and unnerving and consistent in effect — like someone smiling at you without blinking, showing too much of the whites of her eyes ... At one point during her mental breakdown, Alicia builds a 'Spod,' a spa slash personal pod made from a hot tub, several two-by-fours and a sprinkling of interdimensional woo-woo dust. A Touch of Jen is a Spod of a novel: perplexing, chimeric and deliriously original, emitting an eerie power.
...these works serve as reminders that the line between online and off is eminently permeable ... both darker and more ironic than other entries in the genre ... . In A Touch of Jen, however, Remy seems to have no inner life at all—a point underscored by the fact that people are always asking what his 'deal' is—while Alicia is incapable of relaying her genuinely upsetting personal history in anything other than the cadence of a standup comic ... Morgan’s novel is flush with tactile language ... As depictions of a phenomenon that exists largely on the internet and ultimately concerns an unrepresentative if not insignificant portion of the world’s population, there comes a point in all of these works where it’s tempting to ask: Does any of this really matter? Is a photo-sharing app where people post images of their pets and their breakfasts really worthy of so much scrutiny? In the real world, the answer is unfortunately yes ... What’s harder to determine is whether it matters for the purposes of literature ... The operative question is whether the social forms fostered by the internet are genuinely novel enough to offset the risk of immediate obsolescence that any work taking social media as its subject incurs ... A Touch of Jen concerns itself with the same morass but concludes with a smirk rather than a shiver. Ultimately, Morgan suggests that authenticity can be just as hideous as its opposite. The book may date itself with perishable references to Instagram captions and New Age fads, but it succeeds where similar works have faltered by deflating the fantasy of the real.
Plenty of recent books have taken place in the worlds of Silicon Valley and internet start-ups, these insular environments serving as backdrops for social comedy and ominous cautionary tales. Fewer have attempted to actually replicate the infinite toggling required to live in both the real world and the online one, how one self can bleed into the other until it’s unclear which is the 'authentic' being ... scenes share the same comedic cadence of Ottessa Moshfegh, where the aim is less to make you laugh than bare your teeth, and the joke always feels like it’s partly on you, and this middle section of A Touch of Jen will undoubtedly strain the attention spans of any readers who have grown weary of such affected malaise. But there’s a reason David Cronenberg’s name is given such prominence on the back cover, and those who hang in will be rewarded by the drop in the rollercoaster that’s waiting for them in the book’s final third. As with the director’s oeuvre, particularly his adaptation of The Fly, Morgan’s interest in how our technological obsessions warp our physical selves is expressed in visceral and uncomfortable ways, less something that’s shared with her readers than inflicted upon them. This isn’t a complaint but it might be a warning if you’re especially squeamish. In our Smartphone addicted age, when all of us hold a mad scientist potential in the palm of our hand, when new identities can be grafted instantly onto old skin, are monsters something we make or manifest? For Morgan and her characters, it’s a little bit of both.
In this bizarre debut novel, Morgan masterfully brings dark comedy and psychedelic horror together at a slow-burning pace. Her mundane but over-the-top characters and brilliant dialogue add to the surreal and fantastical tone of this spellbinding book.
Morgan’s witty if uneven debut attempts a fantastical combination of millennial ennui, obsession, and shape-shifting horror ... There are a few early signs of a horror plot (in Montauk, Remy thinks he sees a giant beetle outside the window, then hears screams), but the gory transition in the final act feels abrupt. Morgan does a great job with the obsession theme, but otherwise this is a bit too messy.
...just when Morgan seems set on a deep dive into Alicia’s vulnerability to society’s constant pressure to display the most authentic version of an invented self, the plot takes a dramatic twist. The last third of the book is embroiled in the kind of gore usually reserved for less introspective literary genres, with sometimes mixed results. An ambitious debut which captures the loneliness of the internet age in deft strokes in spite of a slightly confusing end.