From Harper’s Bazaar, Best Books of 2023:
Don’t miss this “breakneck thriller based on Ted Bundy’s heinous crimes [following] two women with connections to the murders and their search for justice…a sharp examination of our culture’s obsession with serial killers and true crime”
I was unaware while reading Jessica Knoll’s Bright Young Women: A Novel that the story was inspired by Ted Bundy’s murders of two sorority girls at Florida State University in 1978. The novel recounts the events and more importantly the aftermath of the attacks on a sorority in Florida in 1978 and the disappearance/suspected murder of a woman in Seattle in 1974. The story shifts from past to present and from the perspective of Pamela (survivor from the sorority attack) and Ruth (victim from the Seattle attack). This approach took a beat for me to get a handle of where the story was going but once I did it was an effective approach.
I don’t know if I agree with the abovementioned review descriptor as a “breakneck thriller” – it was an engaging story but not necessarily face paced or thrilling. I found it more of an allegory of the treatment of women. I really enjoyed the character of Pamela and seeing how the events of the attack shaped the rest of her life. In contrast, I did not care for Ruth’s storyline. I would have rather had the other POV come directly from Tina instead of Ruth. I understand the author wanted to provide the perspective from the victim, but I am not a fan of hearing of one’s dying moments direct from the character. I also found Ruth’s story to be “too much” with her family history and even its resolution did not necessarily tie up all the loose ends for me.
Overall, I did enjoy the story because it resonated how women in the USA have been living in a “one step forward, two steps back” existence since the 70s. Yes, we may have more opportunities now yet, it is still a constant battle to be respected and believed. My favorite excerpt from the book came from Pamela’s father:
“Are you in a lesbian relationship with this woman, Pamela?”
“No, Dad,” I said. “I’m not.”
“Then I’m not concerned. You know what does concern me, Brian?”
Brian stared at him insolently.
“That is the best cut of meat north of Fourteenth Street. Eat up.”