before we start, i need you to understand something. i’m a grown ladyperson who grumbles about semantic bleaching and doesn’t bandwagon onto contemporary youngperson slang unless i’m making a comedic point about how out-of-touch i am. i’m never gonna be modern enough to tweet about literally starving to death waiting for a table at the cheesecake factory. so know that when i say this, it’s not some casual colloquialism, but after that ending?
i. am. shook.
i am stomach-dropped awe.
i am, to quote this book, a stinking sack of skin.
to quote this book at greater length:
”I’m holding someone captive in the basement,” I tell him, and the ear comes back, cocked. “I hit her in the head with a brick and I chained her to the wall, and I’ve got her halfway sealed into a tomb, and I probably gave her a concussion, and I think she’s got the flu, and I might have fractured her ankle.”
It’s a lot, when you string it all together like that.
it is a lot.
and yet that whole basement torture/revenge plot is just one slice of a narrative pie which mishmashes Thirteen Reasons Why with Tiger King and pretty much everything edgar allan poe ever wrote. the biggest players are the cask of amontillado & the masque of the red death, but there are so many little nods to the man in the character names (including a dog named william wilson), and a where’s waldo of poe-symbols: a pendulum, an orangutan, a raven, and a black cat, here taking the form of a panther. and for those of you who prefer poe’s b-sides, the hop-frog/ribbit parallel will be a real treat.
it’s not cover-to-cover perfection—some of the poe-winks are a little too winky (tress’ parents’ names are ‘annabelle’ and ‘lee,’ for goodness’ sake), and i could have done without the panther’s POV, which is in verse. i have a pretty staunch and long-standing aversion to poetry infecting my prose. some of the poems were evocative and lovely, but i had no idea what was going on in at least one of ’em, so it didn’t really work for me.
there were also some moves and explanations i found unconvincing—like why tress was sent to live in her weed-farming grandfather’s trailer, often forced to sleep outside with all the indifferently-caged apex predators and made to endure his “hold it in” approach to menstruation instead of living in the crumbly house of usher with her aunt and cousin. i mean, when a girl comes to school smelling like a zebra every day, maybe it’s time to give cps a ring. there were some assorted odds and ends i didn’t really buy, motivation-wise, but in a book where a girl’s walling up her former bestie in the basement of an abandoned house while a deadly flu tears through the partygoers upstairs, it’s not particularly useful to scrutinize the details. this is where we are because this is where mcginnis wants us.
before i read this i was excited to see there was already a follow-up planned, but now that i’ve finished it, i’m apprehensive. the ending is a searing slap in the face and i don’t want whatever comes next to walk it back into ‘jk everything is all right’ territory. i trust her to deliver something badass, but i don’t want any cold water poured onto this sizzle.
i am, and remain, shook.
if i didn’t already ADORE mindy mcginnis, this paragraph of the synopsis:
Tress has a plan. A Halloween costume party at an abandoned house provides the ideal situation for Tress to pry the truth from Felicity – brick by brick – as she slowly seals her former best friend into a coal chute. With a drunken party above them, and a loose panther on the prowl, Tress will have her answers – or settle for revenge.
woulda made me hit that ‘to read’ button hard enough to sprain a finger.