I wanted to read this one in advance of watching the new show, which I’ll now make every available effort to do because the book itself would make for a good translation to visual media. And it helped me understand why I like Megan Abbott so much.
I’ve been going through Abbott’s catalogue for most of the last few years but it wasn’t until I read Dare Me that I realized why I like her so much. Abbott is a very sensual writer. She’s good at filling her atmospheric stories with specific details of sight, touch, smell, and taste that leave distinct marks on me when I read them.
She’s also good at extracting the genus of the story from its amber. This one is very claustrophobic. Parents, school administrators, boys, etc. all play minimal roles, almost to an unrealistic standard but that’s not the point. If you read this and keep asking yourself Where are these girls parents? this probably isn’t the book for you. She’s only interested in her characters, whom she keeps tightly sealed in the well-described hermetic bubble that is high school cheerleading. And the story is so much better for the lead character not having to roll her eyes and yell “Dad!” every time she wants to do something sinister while her parents attempt to put their foot down.
Like Give Me Your Hand, this book is an excavation on the relationships women have, how often they are fraught with peril, how they are shaded by the patriarchy but can find their own autonomy if they try. And how these relationships live on the razor’s edge, with the most minute of decisions bringing lifetime consequences, especially when an outsider comes in to upset an already fragile ecosystem. Throw in the added pressures of competitive cheerleading and existing as a teenage girl and you have a firecracker of a story.
Last year, I wrote that Abbott’s old school LA noir tales, which she wrote early in her career and then abandoned for books like these, were my favorite of hers. Now, I’m not sure. I think I was wrong on that front. This book shows the evolution of a talented writer who has a great idea of what she wants to say.