MysteryPeople Pick for August: Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Reviewed by: Scott M.
Megan Abbott proves how malleable noir fiction is. In her first books, she approached the postwar setting and the genre’s other tropes with a feminine perspective (and I don’t mean “girlie”; you don’t get any cute romances or crying with Megan’s characters). She also honed in on the way noir portrays people driven by their emotions. The approach found its perfect pitch in last year’s The End Of Everything, set in the Detroit suburbs of the nineteen-eighties with a thirteen-year-old girl who discovers disturbing neighborhood secrets when her best friend goes missing. Abbott’s latest, Dare Me, takes the genre known to be about outsiders and losers and drops it in the middle of an in-crowd, a high school cheerleading squad.
It may seem like an idea ripe for satire, but Abbott dispels that notion in the first chapter. She lets you know these young women are both driven and formidable. They’re as tough and tenacious as any PI or mean street criminal and can be as alluring as a femme fatale. Part of what drives them is their search for that fine balance between standing out and fitting in. A pecking order has been established within the squad. One of the strongest bonds is between the main character and narrator, Addy, and the squad captain, Beth.
A new coach, Collette French, upends the order. Coach French is young and exciting to the girls, especially Addy. It’s not long before her attention to Addy strikes fissures in the relationship between Addy and Beth. As Addy hangs out with the coach at her home, we see a wife and mother clinging to her high school life, when she was somebody. It drives Coach French into an affair with a young marine. When the soldier is found dead, secrets, alliances, and deceptions build.
Some will probably compare Dare Me to The End Of Everything, both sharing teen heroines and a modern setting. It also has much in common with Abbott’s hardboiled Queenpin, which is the story of a young bookkeeper being taught the criminal ropes by a been-around-the-block woman in an unnamed gambling town. They share a terse style and the various emotions involved in the mentor/protégé relationship. The book is also reminiscent of Robert Cormier’s young adult noir novels like I Am The Cheese and The Chocolate War, which depict the rawness of teen isolation and tribalism. Abbott, however, gets more complex, and goes deeper and darker.
The two books also differ in the way they look at emotions. The End Of Everything looks at unbridled feelings and the dark places they can carry you.Dare Me is about emotion that is so focused and driven toward a a goal or person that it creates blinders. Both are dangerous.
It’s been said that noir is a look at the short cut to the American dream. Dare Me looks past the superficial goals of money, sex, and power and examines the dichotomy of both being accepted and standing out, as well as what it takes to be number one. God help any other number that gets in the way.
MysteryPeople welcomes Megan Abbott to BookPeople to speak about & sign Dare Me on Thursday, August 2 at 7pm. Abbott will be joined by author Sean Doolittle. Austin’s own Jesse Sublett will serenade us with a few murder ballads, and we’ll have complimentary refreshments.