MysteryPeople Q&A With Megan Abbott

megan abbott
~interviewed by Molly

Megan Abbott’s The Fever is one of the most talked about books of the summer and is the Statesman Selects pick for June. It portrays a tight family of father, son, and particularly daughter caught in the hysteria of a small town when several of the teen girls suffer mysterious seizures.  Though Megan will be in-store with Alison Gaylin, Thursday, June 26 at 7PM, we took the opportunity beforehand to speak with Megan about her new book and the writing process.

Molly O.: I was struck by the similarities between the behavior of the girls in The Fever and the actions of adolescents during the Salem Witch Trials. I was then surprised to learn that you were inspired by a true story. Were you also inspired by the Salem Witch Trials?

Megan Abbott: I’ve always been fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials, and have been reading about them since I was a kid, so I’m sure that
was hovering there somewhere. And the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson. All these tales of American small towns or communities under siege, with the assault somehow coming from within. I’ve always loved stories where there’s an unidentifiable danger==and because it’s unidentifiable, everyone projects their own fears and desires onto it. Whatever theory a character has for what’s afflicting these girls says a great deal about the character.

MO: You hit on some edgy, controversial topics (vaccines, pollution, teen sexuality) as your characters theorize about what could be making a group of teenage girls sick. Did you set out to write a novel tapping into the zeitgeist? What are you worried about in the world right now?

MA: No. I guess I don’t really write that way—from an intellectual place. I write more from an emotional place. I have loads of thoughts about
the world (too many!) and how hard it is to be a teen or a parent of a teen, but when I write it comes from a different part of my head. I
follow character, and just keep on digging. The nature of the characters in The Fever—in particularly, this close-knit family of father, son and daughter. I saw them as the three investigators and just followed their paths.

MO: Traditionally, noir fiction has incorporated quite a bit of the “male gaze” in terms of a sexualized way of viewing women through a
male character’s eyes. In The Fever, I thought you did an excellent job of reversing that trope through the character of Deenie’s brother
and the way in which girls at his school approach him as an object of desire. This is just one aspect of your complicated and nuanced
approach to sexuality and sexual agency. Is this a life-long mission, to bring female agency, especially in terms of sexuality, to noir
fiction?

MA: If I’m honest, my only mission is to tell stories that feel true. But I am beyond thrilled with this question—and flattered by it. I really
did see Eli as a kind of “homme fatal”—through no fault of his own (just as it’s not the femme fatale’s fault that males keep falling for her). I really wanted to write about the way girls look at boys. How they foist all kinds of fantasies onto them, just as boys do with girls. And I really wanted the girls in this book to want, to desire… as we all know girls do. I think we’re still so uncomfortable as a culture with girls having sexual desires and acting on them. We either make a joke out of it or make it horror show, instead of just letting it be real, authentic, awkward, overwhelming—all the things that being a teenager is.

MO: Your last few books have all focused on the dangerous lives of adolescent girls. Why this age group?

MA: I guess because there’s so much rich territory to mine there, and it’s still pretty “under-mined.” That age is so powerful, on the cusp of
adulthood but with all the frenzy of youth. Each day is such a whirlwind of emotion, everything matters so much. It’s the perfect place to find character, story.

MO: You come to noir both as a creator and an academic – a rare combination in today’s world of specialization. Which came first, the
urge to write or to analyze? How would you like to see your own work analyzed?

MA: They’re really two separate parts of my brain—and they never speak to each other! I’ve always done both kinds of writing and thinking, but I never apply my analytical lens to my own work if I can help it. In my case, I think that’s deadly to the creativity. As for how I’d like my
own work analyzed? The real answer is any way any reader likes. There’s no “solution” or “right interpretation.” We all bring our own fascinations and experiences and personal histories to whatever we read, and that’s why reading is so intensely personal an experience. And it’s why it matters so much.


Megan Abbott will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Thursday, June 26th at 7PM. You can pre-order signed copies of The Fever now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

MysteryPeople Review: THE FEVER by Megan Abbott

fever
The Statesman Selects Pick for June:
The Fever by Megan Abbott
~reviewed by Molly

The Fever, Megan Abbott’s latest exploration into the dangerous lives of adolescent girls, depicts mass hysteria in a small town, as popular teenagers begin falling ill from indeterminate causes. At the center of this drama is Deenie, shy, uncertain, ridden with guilt and determined to find the cause of the mysterious plague. On the sidelines, Deenie’s brother and father worry for her health and interpret the situation as best they can.

What could be causing this mysterious illness? The theories are numerous as to the cause of the girls’ condition, and each has its root in a different paranoia of modern-day society. Some suspect vaccines to be at fault. Other theories include pollution, sexually transmitted diseases, and perhaps even biblical retribution. Abbott plays games with mixing all these fears together. When girls discuss receiving the vaccine, the reader might mistake their conversation to be about having sex for the first time. Parents condemn the school for requiring the HPV vaccine in one moment and speculate about the possible sexual origin of their daughters’ illnesses the next.

Fears of vaccines, teenage sexuality, chemical toxicity, and the power of conformity are all contemporary concerns. The book draws much of its inspiration from a real life case of mysterious teenage illness in a New York City suburb. As the town begins to suspect a contagion with no identifiable origin, the CDC intervenes, and their concern becomes futuristic.

The Fever also taps into something much older. In many ways, The Fever reads like a retelling of the Salem Witch Trials, if the accusations of delusional teenagers had led to a thoughtful investigation as well as a mass hysteria. Abbott’s characters use YouTube instead of the pulpit to bring attention to their bizarre sufferings. Some of the characters dabble in mysticism, but all believe in modern science. The convulsions, seizures and accusations, however, fit right in with sixteenth-century style madness, and at the end of Abbott’s novel, we are left with the sense that when it comes to those most intimate connections in our lives – friendship, family, a crush – very little changes over time.


Megan Abbott will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Thursday, June 26th at 7PM, and will be joined by Alison Gaylin! You can pre-order signed copies of The Fever now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

 

 

Top 6 Books To Look Forward to In 2014

2014 is looking like a great year for crime fiction fans. It’s so good that while I was making a top 5 list of books I’m looking forward to, I realized I had to make it 6.

 

1. Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman

This will be a bittersweet read, since it will be the last book featuring my favorite contemporary private eye, Moe Prager. Moe is one of the most fully realized characters out there and this series contains some of the most poignant books I’ve ever read. I may be wiping tears as I turn pages. On Sale 5/18/14. Pre-order here.

 

2. Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

As much as I love Hilary’s Lily Moore series, this novel of blackmail, kidnapping, and bad relationships sounds like the kind of book I’ve been waiting for her to write. Leaning her towards darker short fiction, this could be the Gone Girl of 2014. On Sale 4/15/14. Pre-order here.

 

james ellroy3. Perfidia by James Ellroy

Ellroy goes back to The City Of Angels to revisit some of the characters from his LA Quartet in their earlier days. This could be a return to the sprawling, stylish, down and dirty Ellroy we all got hooked on. On Sale 9/9/14. Pre-order here. 

 

 

4. The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

I’ve been waiting years for Dennis Tafoya to come out with a new book – read Dope Thief to know why. This tale of an ex-US Marshall protecting her sister and step mother from her father on the streets of Philadelphia should have all the gritty heart I’ve come to expect from him and be well worth the wait. On Sale 4/29/14. Pre-order here.

 

5. In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McGinty

The final installment of The Troubles Trilogy featuring Sean Duffy, a Catholic cop in Thatcher-era Belfast. My only hope is that McGinty will find a way to continue with this complex character and his biting sense of humor. On Sale 3/4/14. Pre-order here. 

 

6. The Fever by Megan Abbott

A new book by Megan Abbott. That’s all that needs to be said. On Sale 6/17/14. Pre-order here.