Monday, May 13, 2013

“There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls”

This is a quote from
Dare Me   by Megan Abbott.

I just finished listening to this novel ; downloaded it from the public library.  I listened to it because it is up for an Anthony Award for best mystery novel of the year. 

  The five nominees are:

Dare Me - Megan Abbott [Reagan Arthur]
The Trinity Game - Sean Chercover [Thomas & Mercer]
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn [Crown]
The Beautiful Mystery - Louise Penny [Minotaur]
The Other Woman - Hank Phillippi Ryan [Forge]

I have also read/listened to Gone Girl, which I wrote about in an earlier entry, and The Beautiful Mystery, which I loved.  I haven’t been able to find the other two yet.

My vote would go to The Beautiful Mystery, without question. I love the way Louise Penny writes. I love her detective, Armand Gamache, his wife, his second in command, and the whole troupe of characters who populate Three Pines, a village in Quebec in which many of the novels are set. The Beautiful Mystery, however, is set in a trappist-like monastery far in the Canadian wilderness.  The novel is about Gregorian Chant, about monastery life, about jealousy and politics and love.  It is so far above the other two that I find it difficult to think of the three of them in the same category.

I listened compulsively to Dare Me, I confess. She’s quite a good writer. She takes a fairly ordinary plot and applies it to a topic no one seems to have treated: the culture of Cheer… cheerleaders.

I admit it: I am an old fogey. Fogie?  I remember the cheerleaders in my high school in the mid-sixties.
 ( these aren't from my high school, but a close approximation)

Then, I remember the cheerleaders at the little coed Catholic high school where I taught in the early eighties. The two groups didn’t seem that much different from each other.

The cheerleaders in this fictional high school are another order altogether. I am so afraid that cheerleaders are really like this today.  When I meet my university students next semester, I am going to ask them.  Is it really that bad?   I am so distanced from so much of youth culture. It can’t be any other way, really.  I don’t even watch television shows that might give me a clue; I’ve never seen “Glee,” for example, and I feel that “Cheer” must be the evil twin of “Glee.”

I’ve understood for a while that cheerleading has evolved into a real athletic enterprise – really, today, it is a form of gymnastics, with all the vigilant weight monitoring and rigorous exercise that that entails. But these girls go way beyond that.

The narrative voice is very convincing and lively. I found it even moreso because I listened to the novel. The dialogue is energetic, aggressive, violent, and unrelenting. 

This blurb appears on Megan Abbott’s web page: 

Gillian Flynn recommends Dare Me as one of her favorite books: "Lord of the Flies set in a high-school cheerleading squad. ... Tense, dark, and beautifully written."

I am not in the least surprised that Gillian Flynn ( author of Gone Girl) likes Dare Me.
The girls are so cruel to one another- vicious, really.  And the culture of texting exacerbates the malice.

The power plays between the evil Beth and the other characters just made my skin crawl.

The critic from Entertainment Weekly said this:

“What's exciting about Dare Me is how it makes that traditionally masculine genre [noir] feel distinctly female. It feels groundbreaking when Abbott takes noir conventions — loss of innocence, paranoia, the manipulative sexuality of newly independent women — and suggests that they're rooted in high school, deep in the hearts of all-American girls.”

To quote Kristen Sample in her review, "Abbott’s depiction of the world of a competitive cheerleading team is amazing.  Just as interesting as the question “Who killed the Sarge?” is the inner-workings of the team and the hierarchy, and fight for dominance between Beth and Coach...”

And the coach!!!

To portray a twenty-seven year old married woman and mother like this really disturbed me.  The narrator, one of the main cheerleaders, is too young to see the boundary transgressions that the coach commits:  smoking and drinking with her underage squad , inviting select members to her home, and ultimately involving the narrator in aiding and abetting her love affair with the Army recruiting guy!

The narrator has a huge “girl crush” on the coach, and never questions the ethics of any of the coach’s behavior.

The reviewer in the New York Times said:
“At its core, “Dare Me” reveals something very true about the consuming, sometimes ugly, nature of female friendships.”

That is certainly true of the characters in this book, but is it true about teenage girls, and twenty-something women, in 2013?  Say it isn’t so!

1 comment:

Candice said...

I'm with you, Sister. I would vote for Louise Penny's book hands down! Your blog is wonderful, by the way.