Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Done: "Dare Me" by Megan Abbott
Done: Dare Me by Megan Abbott, 2012, 97803160197772.
There is a lot that I could write about this book. Abbott's last two books may appear, deceptively, shallow since she writes from the point of view of a couple teen girls with limited views on life and adult motivations.
One thing that sticks out from the big press Dare Me has received is, "What's the big deal? Abbott has been writing really good books for several titles now." (Except for Queenpin, that one did not fit me. EDIT: Dang. I was just looking something up and saw Queenpin won an Edgar Award.) I feel like I am ahead of the curve, or hip. Anyway, spoilers await.
Addy and Beth are high school juniors and queen bee cheerleaders. Their older and flabbier coach has retired to Florida and the new coach is 27-years-old, fit, and icy. Addy adores Coach. Bitchy and manipulative Beth, team Captain for years, hates Coach and says she is a fake. Coach does away with the position of team Captain. Beth is not the type to back down. Coach is not the type to back down, especially to a girl. Addy wants peace and harmony. Cracks show among teammates.
Coach is cold and distant but warms up. Coach has the girls to her house. Coach drinks with the girls. Coach has a workaholic husband. Coach is unhappy but Addy cannot quite see this. Coach starts shagging the National Guard Sergeant who runs a recruiters table at the high school. Beth and another girl had a contest to get the reserved Sergeant to show interest. Beth and Addy walk in on the teacher lounge shagging of Coach and Sarge and now Beth has blackmail material on Coach.
More things happen. Addy gets close with Coach and is on cloud nine about it. Addy gets late night call from Coach to come to Sarge's apartment. Sarge is dead from a gunshot. Coach claims suicide. Addy is drawn into the lies and manipulations of Coach, Beth, Guardsmen, the cops, other cheerleaders. Everything resolved with Addy on top.
1. A lot has been made in promotional material, reviews, and interviews about these being sport cheerleaders, not pom-pom shakers. That Abbott wanted to show athletic gymnast cheerleaders. She does. Coach helps the girls progress beyond cheer skirt wearing twits concerned about school status and texting to focused athletes.
2. The girls are that weird mix of teen optimism and teem doom and drama. The world is their oyster but when something goes wrong it seems their lives are ruined forever. Seeing endless potential but quickly crushed by an F grade or a friend who insults her shoes.
3. Recurring Abbott theme: Good girl versus bad girl. Novels narrated by the good girl with a bad girl best pal. Similar to James Ellroy's theme where the weak sister cop grows harder, tougher and by the end takes control. The bad girl will lose in the end.
4. Beth's actions to undermine Coach are more than jealously over being top dog. Beth loves Addy romantically. This is fully revealed at the end but touched upon by Abbott throughout the story that I could see it (or suspect it) ahead of time.
5. Addy is an unreliable narrator. Her teammates repeatedly refer back to a major rift and fight between Beth and Addy during summer cheer camp. The others see Beth's controlling nature over Addy. Addy refuses to see what is there. Addy tells her teammates to stuff it when they reveal truths she does not want to face. Addy refuses to recall her drunken, lesbian, late night fling with Beth. That fling and a future with Addy drive Beth. Addy refuses to face up to abandoning Beth as a pal. That Addy has as much power as Beth - maybe more.
6. Cheerleader cliches abound. Abbott uses that surface sheen of ponytails, lip gloss, texting, glitter make-up, and skinny, pretty arrogance. Beneath the image lies the darker sharper point. Pill popping, personal nastiness, manipulation, cheap wine and late nights, hints of promiscuity aimed at older men, accessory to murder.
7. The wild teen parties of movies. Wild teen parties in general. Teens getting in deep trouble hanging out and drinking or doping with adults. Because any adult partying with a high school teenager is a fucking loser. Fucking losers attract and cause trouble.
8. Addy is not playing the role of amateur detective. She is not Miss Marple. Addy ponders and worries for her own skin but does not start to figure things out until the end. Only then does Addy put the pieces together and get the full story from Coach.
9. I took a long time to finish this. I put the book aside about 1/4 through because I knew something bad would happen and I dreaded finding out. Once I started reading again I kept getting interrupted and only finished on yesterday's plane from Houston.
EDIT 29 Aug 2012, 10. I just realized that all the main characters are female. The guys, even Sarge, take back seat in the action.
EDIT 5 may 2014. What is with all the internet traffic coming from Oxford, MS? Are you people students? New neighbors? Bar flies? Fellow faculty?
EDIT 27 May 2014. More web traffic. I presume because Abbott's new novel is coming out and has been getting "The next Gone Girl!!!!!! OMG!!!! Argle-bargle!!!" promo.
EDIT 1 July 2014: People come here but I have no idea on their thoughts. Let me know, did you end up here after reading this, wanting to read this, or having read another Abbott novel. I have not yet read FEVER.
EDIT 6 December 2019: with the television adaptation releasing in a couple weeks the hits keep coming.