Entertainment » Books

Innocent Fashion

by Logan Quigley
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jul 5, 2016
Innocent Fashion

For Ethan St. James, a recent Yale graduate and newly minted intern at renowned New York fashion magazine Régine, beauty is everything. R.J. Hernandez's debut novel, "An Innocent Fashion," tracks its main character as he navigates the post-graduation world, painting a strikingly complex picture of the intersections between privilege, race, and sexuality in the modern era. The novel spends most of its 400-page length in a series of flashbacks, exploring Ethan's relationships with his privileged Yale classmates and high-brow Régine coworkers, none of whom (save Ethan himself) seem to struggle with existing in such a fast-paced, upper-crust world.

At first glance, the novel's concept -- a millennial struggling to acclimate to post-graduation work life -- feels tired and overused, another entry in the litany of thinkpieces and editorials lambasting the millennial generation for its entitlement problem. As it unfolds, however, "An Innocent Fashion" proves itself to be far more than that -- the entitlement depicted in Hernandez's novel is complicated by Ethan's Latinx identity, immigrant parentage, and developing sexuality. As a character, Ethan is hardly likable (his feelings of superiority and invulnerability are frequently maddening) but his -- complexity makes him believable -- Hernandez's own experiences at Yale and working in fashion are clearly at play in his characterization of Ethan's world. It is this credibility that makes the novel a must-read, one that approaches a typical portrayal of the high-brow worlds of academia and fashion only to break them open, exposing the racist and classist stigmas that govern them.

The writing is earnest and carefully crafted, if sometimes overwrought -- Hernandez's poignant descriptions illustrate a vivid world, ironically lending it much of the beauty Ethan (who consistently describes the world surrounding him as unrelentingly ugly) fails to see. The author's devotion to his craft is clear, and though at times the countless similes and metaphors that litter the pages feel overused, the book's pacing is consistent and the writing is always engaging.

A breath of fresh -- and fashionable -- air, "An Innocent Fashion" complicates the idea of entitlement, forcing its reader to grapple with the difficulties of racism and classism in work and academic environments. Ethan's dramatic personality and hyperbolic imagination transform everyday interactions into life-or-death situations, echoing the tension that countless generations -- not just the millennial one -- have felt upon entering the workplace for the first time. An important addition to the conversation about entitlement and growing up, Hernandez's debut novel is darkly entertaining, emotionally exhausting, and overall, well worth reading.

"An Innocent Fashion"
R.J. Hernandez
Harper Perennial

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