Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Sunday Book: Dare Me - Megan Abbott

Two book posts in two weeks. See how efficient I can be when I simply let someone else speak for me? Sure, that's the beginning of the end but it is particularly appropriate here because I bought and read Dare Me by Megan Abbott on the strength of the below paragraph.

"Dare Me by Megan Abbott is a book about high school cheerleaders, but it’s nothing like what you might expect. Populated by women who act with boldness, resolve, independence, and a prioritizing of the self Dare Me is both engaging and terrifying because it reveals the fraught intimacy between girls. It’s a novel about bodies and striving for perfection and ambition and desire so naked, so palpable, you cannot help but want the deeply flawed women in the book to get what they want no matter how terribly they go about getting it. The young women at the center of the novel, Beth and Addy, are friends as much as they are enemies. They betray each other and they betray themselves. They commit wrongs, and still, they are each other’s gravitational center. On the phone, after a drunken night, Beth asks Addy if she remembers “how we used to hang on the monkey bars, hooking our legs around each other, and how strong we got and how no one could ever beat us, and we could never beat each other, but we’d agree to each release our hands at the count of three, and that she always cheated, and I always let her, standing beneath, looking up at her and grinning my gap-toothed pre-orthodontic grin.” It is a moment that shows us how Addy has always seen Beth plainly and understood her and loved her nonetheless. Throughout the novel, Beth and Addy remain unlikable, remain flawed to an extent, but there is no explanation for it, no clear trajectory between cause and effect. Traditional parameters of likability are deftly avoided throughout the novel in moments as honest and no less poignant as these."

Roxane Gay, Not Here to Make Friends: On the Importance of Unlikable Female Protagonists

This review in miniature, an excerpt from an excellent essay on unlikeable women in film and fiction, is why I read the book and everything I liked about it. If it does not sell you on the novel there is little I can do to persuade you. I suppose I could add that the book has a bloody death and the taut pace of a thriller but I'm not a crime reader and this was the least interesting aspect of the book to me.

I enjoyed Abbott's vision of adolescent female friendship, both fickle and absolute, burning and competitive and romantic and unpredictable. It is tumultuous and vital and, although not a mirror of my own experiences, it felt truthful. What I loved though were her bodies - Abbott writes physicality amazingly powerfully. These cheerleaders don't just wave pompoms and smile in short skirts, they are serious athletes, bruises and solid muscles and strain. The book never lets you forget the constant effort and the risk involved. It is exhilarating for the girls honing their bodies and skills like finely tuned instruments and for the reader. It is gloriously brutal, tight, angry bodies spinning and falling, trying desperately to explode the limitations of high school, small town life and the awkward, painful transition from childhood to adulthood. Perhaps this is what people get from watching sport - the willed bodies, the energy, the almost-transcendence? I wouldn't know but I can say that it was a pleasure to read.

Mmm, there was so much rage. Delicious. Anyway, it is a fun, fast paced read and if any of the above interests you I would recommend it.

Chuck x

1 comment:

  1. Ahh high school cheerleaders... I'm glad that's something we can wax nostalgic about now :)