You know that dream where you realize that you have been in assigned to a class for an entire semester, but you have never once attended the class? You “wake up” on the day that your final is due and panic, then cobble together whatever previous assignments that you have scattered about that might be able to pass for whatever you were supposed to do in that class? I am fairly sure that’s what happened to Alice Bolin when she woke up one day, book advance already spent after pitching the concept of culture’s obsession with female murder victims, and relaized “oh shit, I still have a whole book to fill”.
There is definitely one, maybe two, essays in this collection that actually speak to the title. I picked up this book because I was snagged by the concept. Why are we so obsessed with dead girls? I have my many theories, and I’m sure that Bolin does too, but unfortunately she does not present them here. This collection is really a scrambled memoir of her time living in/ thinking about what it means to live in LA. A more accurate title would be Didion Girls: Essays on Wanting to Become Joan Didion while Living and Dying in LA. Bolin is preoccupied with LA and Didion. Most of these essays focus on her move to LA, her odd roommates, her misery while living there, and her need to read Didion the entire time. I know that I am referencing Didion A LOT but it is NOTHING compared to Bolin’s name drops. She tries to justify the Didion hero-worship by very slightly criticizing her in the final essay, but not before implying that she considers herself a writer of Didion’s caliber.
Bolin claims to have her finger on the pulse of America’s mired issues with pop culture, especially in regard towards the abuse of women, but for a piece published in 2018 there are a few people that she mentions throughout the essay who have been proved to be problematic without any mention of their indiscretions: Sherman Alexie, Dr. Luke, and James Deen just to name a few. She also indulges in a bit of pop-psychology while accusing (she would more likely call it “diagnosing”) family members and strangers alike of being Autistic while also implying that Autism is a “mental illness”. YIKES.
The essays are not boring, nor are they poorly written, but they do tend to repeat themselves. This collection is a scrambled journal; it feels like it was meant to be a memoir but she was told that a memoir wouldn’t sell and would have to pick a selling point (hence the dead girls of the title). Bolin recounts things that she has already told us about herself and her family word-for-word throughout multiple essays. She is a big proponent of telling over showing, and her telling drove me up a wall. Bolin wants to be a critic of pop culture, and she does have some unique and well-planned theories, but to get there she resorts to summarizing dozens of books and movies. I could get personally pissy over “spoilers”, as she does tell the ENTIRE STORY of multiple movies and novels, some of which are recent publications, but truly I am annoyed by what I perceive to be laziness. To go back to that “oh no, final is due” dream, it feels like she woke up and went “gah! my word-count!” and padded out her final product with entire recaps of movies, books, songs, and TV episodes. As you may have guessed she summarizes nearly all of Didion’s work, but we also get huge chunks of Raymond Chandler, Chinatown, Agnes Varga, True Detective, Ginger Snaps, Teen Witch, Helen Oyeyemi, and many more.
I feel that I should be able to now write up posts about every book that she summarized within this book.