The new Megan Abbott book, which has become a kind of yearly/bi-yearly affair since I started reading her first with Dare Me. Maybe Dare Me was the worst book of hers to start with because even when I’ve really enjoyed her books, I feel like I’ve been chasing that one.
The new book takes place in a ballet studio in the US in more or less contemporary times. We have a few clues like cellphone and a vape pen, but like ballet itself, this book exists in a kind of timeless space of the mid-century US, even though it’s clearly contemporary. That partially comes from the pseudo Grey Gardens feel we begin to get from the three protagonists, two sisters and an adopted brother (cum husband) who run the studio, as well as from the basic plot, which involves an increasingly stressful and encroaching sense of doom from a building contractor who seems bent on destroying them after a fire in the studio presents the possibility of either an upgrade or an insurance scam, depending on which way the story will break (I won’t tell you).
And like all Megan Abbot books, but especially from Dare Me on, the book’s tension and conflict lie in the intense, intertwined, complicated, and usually sordid or toxic relationships of the central characters. Their overlapping lives and frailties turn a regular plot into something much more psychologically intense. I think this consistently makes Megan Abbot a fair inheritor to the Patricia Highsmith school and reputation.
This book is absolutely dripping in it too. We are told over and over how much smoking is happening here, and given the ways in which so much of the world has left smoking behind (at least perhaps the polite society many Megan Abbot readers inhabit) the book drips with the intense smells of lingering cigarette smoke. It drips with mold and rain water and flooding, there’s ash in the air from fires. There’s the intense smell of old theaters and studio space, and sweat, and other fluids here too. So be prepared to feel a little grimy here.
Ultimately I am not as intensely favorable as I am with other Abbott books, but it’s very clearly a Megan Abbott book, so don’t worry there.