Joma WestSep 8, 2022
People have always cared about their social status and how others perceive them, but advances in technology have changed how we ascend the social ladder, giving us new tools to manipulate our image and new measures of success as we seek “friends,” “likes” and the ever-elusive virality.
In Joma West’s debut novel Face (Tordotcom, 2022), climbing the ladder is everything. The way you act and dress, who you couple with, how you move and talk—it all adds up to “face,” which, in turn, determines your job, where you live, who you befriend and the quality and quantity of opportunities available to you. Every second—at home, in public or on the “In”(ternet)—is carefully choreographed. It’s a cold world, where even children are curated to advance social standing.
With everyone—even enslaved “menials”—hiding their thoughts and feelings, people turn to anonymous confessors to express their emotions. Through a Rashomonic narrative where the reader re-experiences the same scenes from different characters’ points of view, West reveals the tensions underlying every interaction and the emotional cost of living in a society that values external success over internal well-being.
“Face is a game, a way of life, a survival mechanism,” West says. “It's essentially everything that you are when you're on the hierarchy. If you're a menial you have no face, so it doesn't matter, but if you're someone on the social ladder of any kind, your face is everything. And it is what ensures that you are at the level that you're at, and it also ensures how you climb the ladder as well.”
Joma West is a third culture writer whose work straddles both fantasy and science fiction.
Rob Wolf is a writer and co-host of New Books in Science Fiction.