Posts Tagged ‘Megan Abbott’

‘Give Me Your Hand’ by Megan Abbott – Two Friends and Rivals in the Laboratory

Give Me Your Hand’ by Megan Abbott (2018) – 342 pages

‘Give Me Your Hand’ is the harrowing story of two woman scientists, Kit Owens and Diane Fleming, who became good friends in high school and later are members of the same medical research team. The story alternates between ‘Then’ in high school and ‘Now’ ten years later in the research lab. Kit Owens is from a poor background and has had to struggle to achieve anything. Diane Fleming is from a well-to-do family and has always been treated as the perfect one by teachers and others. Diane inspired Kit to new heights of academic achievement. Now they are both working on a medical project involving PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) which is a severe form of PMS with symptoms of wild mood swings, intense anger toward others, and even violent behavior. Both Kit and Diane are terribly ambitious, and Kit quotes one of her idols Marie Curie:

My head is so full of plans that it seems aflame.”

This is a psychological thriller. Diane has a dark secret from her past which she has disclosed only to Kim, and Kim could destroy her by telling another person at any time. Along the way we meet others who work in the lab including a couple of men and Dr. Lena Severin, the woman who leads the project.

All of us toiling years in the lab, our necks permanently crooked over microscopes, our faces cadaverous from never seeing the sun.”

This is classic Megan Abbott if there is such a thing (I’ve read two of her previous novels) involving sharp conflicts between young women. The movies are starting to come after Abbott’s work with three of her novels being filmed, and she is a writer for the HBO series ‘The Deuce’. Her work is usually classified as crime fiction and she has won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award.

I found ‘Give Me Your Hand’ a bit too simplistic and sketchy to be totally satisfying as a novel for me, but it is probably ideal to be used as the basis for a movie. My reaction to Abbott’s work is similar to my reaction to Stephen King’s work. The prose gets a little too breathless at times for it to be totally convincing as a literary novel. I do like the visceral intensity and obsession of Megan Abbott’s novels and will probably continue to read them in the future.

 

Grade : B

 

“You Will Know Me” by Megan Abbott – Gymnasts at the Top of their Form

 

“You Will Know Me” by Megan Abbott    (2016) –   340 pages

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“You Will Know Me” is a suspense novel set in the obsessive compulsive world of girls’ gymnastics.

Megan Abbott lays it all out quite nicely for us in a chart early on.

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There are 2,200 Level 10 girl gymnasts nationwide.  Of these 2,200 girls, 65 0f them will make it to Junior Elite.  Of the 65 Junior Elite gymnasts, 45 become Senior Elite.  Of the Senior Elites, 28 girls make the National Team, and of these only 5 girls make the Olympic team.  So there is a lot of pressure in the world of top-level girls’ gymnastics.  We don’t hear much about the girls who don’t make it somewhere along the line to the Olympics.

The families of the gymnasts at or near the top levels have to put up with a lot of trouble too.  Top athletes require special coaches and gyms which are expensive.  Weekends for the family are spent traveling long distances to matches.  Other family members may be neglected in the family’s single-minded pursuit of a position for their talented daughter.   Making it or not making it to the next level is only a matter of inches for the girl in any maneuver.

So Megan Abbott has found the ideal conditions for a suspense novel.  Throw in a mysterious death, and we are rolling.  It also helps that the girls and the parents who belong to these top-level gymnastics teams are a close-knit group.

Devon Knox is the girl gymnast star in “You Will Know Me”.   From an early age Devon excelled and now is at Level 10.  Even at a young age she was stronger at gymnastics than the rest of the girls.  She has precision and steely determination.  Her parents, though not rich, have always gotten the special coaches and gyms she requires. They needed a second mortgage for their house to afford the expenses. Sometimes in pursuit of their daughter’s and their own dreams, they neglect their son Drew.  The story is told from the point of view of the mother Katie who is pretty much the average housewife and mother.

“No one ever wants to believe bad things about their own family,” Katie said.   

Like all good suspense novels, ‘You Will Know Me’ barrels along, and you read it quickly.  Megan Abbott is very adept at handling the family dynamics and the gymnastics team dynamics that propel this story.   Abbott gets the details exactly right down to the “smell of damp leotards and pit foam” to the “funfetti cupcakes”. The reader totally believes this situation could happen and thus follows the story intently.

With its single-minded intensity, ‘You Will Know Me’ is a fine example of the Suspense genre.  The main criticism I can reasonably make is that I prefer novels which are more than one thing.

Read it anyway.

 

Grade:   A-   

 

‘Dare Me’ by Megan Abbott – Raucous Relentless High School Cheerleaders

‘Dare Me’ by Megan Abbott    (2012) – 290 pages

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Megan Abbott had fallen under my radar until now.   It is not too surprising that a novel about a girls’ high school cheerleading team would fall under my radar.  What I didn’t realize is that this isn’t young adult fiction by any stretch of the imagination.  This is brutal noir crime fiction.

‘There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.’ 

 Usually I will read an author’s current work to review in order to be as up-to-date as possible.  However, after researching the crime fiction writer Megan Abbott, I decided to read her quintessential novel ‘Dare Me’ first rather than her newest one ‘The Fever’.

What does a hard-boiled murder mystery novel involving high school cheerleaders sound like?  “‘Give us some handsprings, bitches!’, Beth’s voice boomed at us.”  Beth was the captain of the cheerleading team until the new adult coach Colette French arrives and decides there isn’t going to be a squad captain anymore.  Since Beth had always been the captain of everything since grade school, the coach’s decision does not sit too well with her.  To say the least.

I know absolutely nothing about the cheerleading world, but I am quite sure that Megan Abbott nailed it in ‘Dare Me’   Abbott writes with an unforgettable visceral intensity that makes the self-contained world of the cheerleading team come alive.    The incessant texting, the black market in Adderall,  the taking it to the next level all ring true.

“Twice last week she didn’t call for our late-night recap, our laying forth of the maneuvers of the day, who humiliated herself, whose bra is tatty, and whose fat ass is fatting up the whole squad.  We’d done these calls nightly since forever.”  

 56006_320 This is Addy speaking, Beth’s best friend and aide-de-camp until she becomes enamored of the new coach.  She is the voice of ‘Dare Me’ and in a position to understand both Beth and the new coach as well as be present as the cheerleaders practice and perform.  When a sinister suicide occurs, she is there to help us figure it out.

I expect that many female readers are familiar with Megan Abbott, but how do you sell a novel about high school cheerleaders to men?  Some reviewers have called it ‘Fight Club for girls’.

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Queenpin_000At some near point Abbott will cross over into male readership, because her crime writing is so vivid and true-to-life.  It is made for the movies.  They are planning a movie of ‘Dare Me’ possibly starring Natalie Portman.

I notice that Megan Abbott has written several novels before, and they all have lurid covers just like the old noir novels of the 1950s and 1960s.

 

 

 

 

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