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Highlighting Author Allie Rowbottom and Her Thought-Provoking ‘Aesthetica’

Navigating the delicate landscape of the ‘Instagram Novel’ requires a deft hand — too critical, and you’re dismissed as out-of-touch; too familiar, and there’s nothing fresh to say. It’s rare to find one that transcends the simple premise of condemning social media and becomes a cultural phenomenon.

At the heart of Allie Rowbottom’s latest novel, Aesthetica, lies Anna, a vulnerable teen with dreams of stardom or at least some direction. A single Instagram message from the charismatic influencer Jake Alton launches her into a world of likes, followers, and online fame. Anna grasps this sudden attention as a real chance for a career.

Aesthetica charts Anna from 2017, through her transformative surgeries, evolving personas, and shifting ideologies amidst the glare of notoriety. Anna’s mother, rooted in staunch feminist ideals, condemns Anna’s indulgence in the superficial, dubbing it a misguided search for self-fulfillment. Anna, however, is caught in a modern feminist dilemma: the desire and act of altering one’s appearance as autonomy. She reflects on another woman’s decision to have surgery, questioning the kind of woman she’d be if she wasn’t supportive.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Allie Rowbottom to delve into topics like the era of influencers and the haunting real-life events that inspired the narrative of the novel.

A round of applause for your debut novel, Aesthetica! With your writing background, including your prior memoir Jell-O Girls, how did transitioning to fiction reshape your writing process?

The shift was profound. My academic background in fiction had atrophied in favor of non-fiction due to my life’s compelling material. Returning to fiction demanded a reeducation in storytelling basics. Compared to the emotional labor of memoirs, fiction has been a liberating creative outlet, and I’m relishing the release of this novel.

In regards to the sense of freedom, does it stem from the ability to mold the character’s fate without constraint?

Absolutely. It’s refreshing to not be tethered to a true narrative. Plus, it’s a relief not to need to disclose personal or family details—it’s a novel, pure and simple, a product of imagination.

Let’s examine some narrative inventions. Anna’s and Jake Alton’s mutually beneficial relationship quickly materializes, with her follower count soaring. Could you share the origin of their dynamic?

Jake Alton’s character and his murky influence on Anna manifested early on. His character acted as a personification of systemic issues, coerces Anna into the influencer life, and yet shows a caring side. The blend of manipulation and concern makes their relationship especially nuanced and compelling.

The intricacies of influencer culture in the novel are absorbing. Did real influencers shape Anna’s tale, or was it purely imaginative?

I largely sidestepped engaging with actual influencers, focusing more on Anna’s emotional journey. However, real-life horror stories of exploitation played a significant role in crafting her story. It’s fascinating how the fictional elements paralleled real-world experiences.

The pitfalls Anna faces as an influencer are intimately tied to her self-image. Do you believe it’s possible to navigate platforms like Instagram without damaging one’s perception of self?

Certainly, there are healthier ways to engage with the platform, particularly for impressionable youth. I highlight one aspect of Instagram’s use, but I’m aware there are many who use it positively to promote inclusivity and self-acceptance.

Anna’s susceptibility to influence and impulsive behaviors—is it a byproduct of her youth, her upbringing, or societal messages about feminism?

It’s a combination. Her youth and search for father figures increase her vulnerability, while contemporary feminist discourse provides her with a rationale for her decisions, even if they are questionable.

Amidst the unfolding of the narrative, we witness how difficult it is for Anna’s mother to reach her once she’s entangled in this seductive world. Is the key to escape within her self-awareness?

Indeed, the mother-daughter dynamic is a challenging one, impacted by generational differences and Anna’s growing autonomy. Ultimately, the responsibility to recognize and break free from harmful influences falls on the individual.

Lastly, as we see Anna dismantle her constructed persona, what are the themes you intend to explore next in your writing journey?

Another novel is on the horizon; it’s still in nascent stages, so I’m keeping the details close to my heart. While it diverts from the digital domain, the theme of celebrity persists.

Aesthetica is now up for grabs.

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