Sunday, November 29, 2009

Read a Couple Weeks Ago: "Die A Little" by Megan Abbott

Read A Couple Weeks Ago: Die A Little by Megan Abbott,2005, 9780743261708.

I was incredibly impressed with this book. I have not read all of Abbott's books but I liked this one head and shoulders above them all. Abbott mentioned what a big fan of Ellroy she is. Die fits right into Ellroy's '50s novels of L.A. Booze, squares mixing with rough types, secret prostitution ring, wealthy and famous johns, secrecy and conspiracy, double dealing and distrust.

Lora King and her brother Bill are in their twenties and very close. They grew up orphaned and reaised by their grandparents in L.A. They share a house in Pasadena while Bill works as a investigator for the D.A. and Lora teaches high school. Bill meets and falls hard for the Alice. Alice is beautiful and lively. Alice's personality makes her the center of all attention. Alice and Bill marry. Lora is a bit jealous of losing her brother, she does move out after all, But, Alice's manic behaviour and intense efforts to be the perfect suburban wife are odd. Alice's past is very secretive. Alice, too, is an orphan and talks little of her life before working as a seamstress for a movie studio.

Lora meets Alice's messed up friend Lois and cracks start to show. Lois gets in trouble with men and to the reader is obviously doped up. Lois realtionship with Alice seems deeper than friends. By chance Lora also meets a sharkskinned suit operator friend of Alice's and starts to learn more and more about Alice.

Well, it turns out Alice is not that bad. But, Alice is an ex-hooker and a fairly ruthless pimp. Lois is murdered and Lora starts digging and brings in the police. Things happen. Lois has guilt. Lois worries for her brother. Lois uncovers it all and solves the problem without the professional or personal downfall of her beloved brother.

1. Die is told by Lora and therefore we see her mistakes, misassumptions, and the lies about herself. For example, Lora has a relationship with a guy. Late in the novel the guy mentions how Lora was in his bed within three hours of meeting him and likes to get turned over and banged hard with her face in a pillow. That was a surprise to read. Lora does not portray herself as a wilting flower but she skips over a few details.
2. This is not a mystery. This is Lora's story of herself and her family. She had accepted Alice as a sister but when it seemed Alice may be playing with Bill or maybe ruining him she cuts Alice off.
3. Great setting by Abbott. Setting is definitely one of her great strengths just as in Queenpin and The-Arizona-one-I-cannot-remember-the-title-to. Alice's cooking fanaticism, mixed drinks, cocktail parties, cultural mores of the time. I did spot an anachronism but do not recall what it was.
4. How long until Abbott's mother googles her way over here? Again?
5. Strength of setting is not to say her plot and characters are weak.
6. I really have to get those Muskego interviews transferred off that damned, digital tape and onto my hard drive.
7. The whole femme-fatal- from-the-inside-out was a great idea for Abbott to pursue.
8. I did not get too into the dichotomy/duality of Lora/Lois and Lora/Alice but did cathc on to it. Am I less dense than I used to be, or did Abbott make it clear?
9. If I had typed in these notes directly after reading this I would have gushed. I'm glad I took a while before getting to it.

1 comment:

J F Norris said...

I think I remember hearing Megan say that she set this book in the exact same location as the California courtyard building in the movie IN A LONELY PLACE, one of her favorite crime movies. In other words, she literally used the set of the movie for her setting of this novel. Maybe that's why it's so detailed and rich. Of her early noirish period novels, before she became a novelist who explores contemporary families and the secret world of teen girls, I liked QUEENPIN the best.