fulfilling my 2021 goal to read one book each month by an author i love that i haven’t gotten around to reading yet
this whole monthly goal to ‘read a book i’ve never read by an author i love’ endeavor has been interesting, especially in those months where the book i hadn’t read was the beloved author’s debut, which was the case with this one, John Crow’s Devil, and Under the Bright Lights.
for some reason, i was convinced that The End of Everything was her debut, and the handful of girlnoir books she wrote were a brief experiment with historical/genre-writing before returning to the realm over which she reigns supreme: contemporary psychological explorations of the dark underbelly of adolescent girlhood.
but no, these four books (Die a Little, Queenpin, The Song Is You, and Bury Me Deep) were how she announced her arrival on the literary scene, and although, of the four, i’ve only read this one and Queenpin, it’s enough to know that she’s stunningly good at this style, and now i wonder why she ever stopped writing these literary pulp novels. i mean, the six books she wrote after these are amazing, and she’s one of my all-time favorite writers, but the fact that this book was her veryfirst is making me fall even more in love with her than i already was.
because this was outstanding. everything she is—all of her strengths and themes and fixations—all the seeds for what characterizes her later work are here, just in period costumes. in fact, there’s a line in this one that pops up, in a slightly different context, in her most recent, The Turnout.
how did she manage to bang this one out of the park her first time at bat? the observations, the turns of phrase, the details, the subtext—she came into this world fully-formed, poised and collected, and unleashed this twisted web of secrets and concealment and guise that reads like the work of a much more seasoned author. it’s tight and complex, and there are just layers of dark, dirty things squirming beneath this stylized, economical prose, and it’s so damn precise and compact and pure.
as always, her focus is female, and it’s centered around the not-so-sugar-and-spice aspects of ladyhood. in her contemporary novels, where her characters tend to be younger, it’s effective because
here, set in 1950’s LA, you have the juxtaposition of the blowsy, wanna-be-starlet floozy types, living fast lives at odds with the prim-and-proper housewife ideal, but those trim, coiffed, pencil-skirted ladies have secrets of their own, secrets that are just as seedy despite being so well-concealed.
sex and drugs and murder and the scrabble-and-hustle of trying to make it in a world that pigeonholes its ladies into the boring binary of naughty and nice. and then megan abbott comes ’round, sticks a knife into that seam and lets it all bleed out.
and it is glorious.