Plain Bad HeroinesPlain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
My rating: 4/5 cats
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oooh, goodreads choice awards finalist for best horror 2020! what will happen?




when i first heard about this book; that it was a gothic-toned victorian private school story set in RHODE ISLAND with lesbians and mysterious deaths and stories-within-stories, i knew it was a must-read for me.

and once i got my hands on it, i fell into it like

it was everything i was told it was gonna be, but also more, becoming bigger and more meta, the story splintering in ways i hadn’t anticipated.

and while i was reading it, i absolutely loved it, but i’m not really sure what i took away from it, if that makes any sense. i loved the journey of it, but it feels unconcluded (which is a different thing than something being inconclusive), and i’m not certain it left me with anything other than the experience of completing a long, fun book. which is not a bad thing, but it makes it difficult to consider the book as a forest instead of a series of perfectly nice trees.

this novel is long and layered. it’s a book about the making of a film adapted from a book about a book, during which process the film itself becomes a film about the making of a film. set across three time periods, it’s full of women in love: the doomed teen romance between clara and flo, the slightly less-doomed romance between alex and libbie, and the “it’s complicated” modern romance between merritt and harper, with audrey on their periphery. there are also plenty of supporting characters and a footnote-mad omniscient narrator commenting on the events, inserting their own jabby asides along the way. View Spoiler »

there are wasps and jealousies and seances, there’s obsession and truman capote and the price of fame, there’s a perilous staircase leading to a middle finger of a tower, there are secrets and secrets and secrets. also: there’s some artwork.

so, you see, it is a lot.

and it’s entertaining as hell, even though it doesn’t really resolve into anything beyond an enjoyable romp. which is enough, especially these days. it’s a fast read to fall into, and only medium-spooky unless you have an insect thing, in which case you’ll be terrified.

a personal note about Mary MacLane, whose book I Await the Devil’s Coming features prominently here. i remember seeing her book at st. marks bookstore when it was reissued as part of melville house’s neversink series,

but i ended up buying something else because i’m not super into nonfiction, which i now regret because it’s out of print and st. marks is closed and everything ends and i guess i’m partially to blame.

*update: it’s still available through melville house, so support ’em if you can, and if reading this book made you curious about reading her book. but if you’re “an impressionable female,” bewaaaaaaare!

read my book reviews on goodreads

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