Vulture: My Brilliant Friend and the Relatable Horror of Elena’s Zits

On Vulture

Hillary Kelly – Dec 5, 2018

The “pimple on prom night” trope in books and movies always struck me as absurd in its tiny scope. One pimple isn’t a cause for concern. A pustulent Pleiades roaming across your cheeks, on the other hand, is the stuff of a full-blown identity crisis, especially since — as anyone who has ever suffered, and I mean suffered, from acne knows — with every outbreak your hands will magnetically fly up to gently stroke the crusts and potboilers forming on your skin, thus spreading the contagion and drawing out the agony. A pimple is an annoyance. Acne is a curse.

Which is why when Elena Greco — perennial sidekick to her clear-faced best friend Lila, even in her own narrative — emerged onscreen in the third episode of My Brilliant Friend as a teenager with clusters of zits wandering across her jawline and forehead, I let out a small mental cheer. A heroine, onscreen, with acne and all its attendant anxieties. That’s one small step for pimples, one giant leap for teenage-kind.

The Elena of Ferrante’s novels is afflicted with zit parades as well. Her skin, she explains, was “spoiled: on my forehead, my chin, and around my jaws, archipelagos of reddish swellings multiplied, then turned purple, finally developed yellowish tips.” She tries, like we all do, to rid herself of the pimples by popping them, but her face is “only more inflamed.” More and more crowd her face. Until the magic of the Ischian sun clears her skin to the point where Elena doesn’t even mention its former state. “I looked at myself in the mirror and I also marveled: the sun had made me a shining blonde, but my face, my arms, my legs, were as if painted with deep gold.”

Read more