READERS TELL ALL.
In 2013, I was at a breaking point. A boy I thought I loved told me "I am not in a mood for relationships, but if was, I would be with you." Which, let's be real, is as fake as things can come, and that was before the--and I hate this phrase, but love using it ironically--level of "woke' I became due to crime novels which exposed me to the truth of things, a truth other genres cannot match or compare. I decided that perhaps I could be like a hero--or, rather, heroine--of mine, Veronica Mars, and so I set off solving mysteries. One involved getting a dog out of a locked car in July. That proved simple enough, as the front door was actually unlocked and the methheads who owned the car (I have my fair share of experience with methheads, given I am from a place called Hogeye, SC) who nearly attacked me, accusing me of stealing their dog. The next mission was a bit rougher--I had a cousin who will go unnamed, and who may or may not have been addicted to heroin. I bragged later in class about my endless efforts to locate him after he went missing, and finding him at the home of a drug dealer--his drug dealer, to be exact. Bragging about this in front of a professor I thought was cool actually resulted in me being sent a New Yorker article (because he was an English professor, and not afraid to show his snobbery) about criminal informants who wind up being found dead after dealing with drug deals. Let me get this across: I never once said that I was seeking out drugs, just a drug dealer who had provided my cousin a place of refuge after he tried to burn his parents' mansion to the ground--with said parents inside. Oh and so I don't get sued for this, assume this was all made up.
The point of the little anecdote is to press another matter on you: anyone who is reading this, all of the loyal followers of my website, desperately need to seek out a copy of Canary by Duane Swierczynski. I currently have exhausted all of my own funds sending our copies to my many friends, relatives, and fellow book-lvoers. By the way, if you aren't on the list and want to be gifted with extraordinary works of fiction, contact me and get on this list. Canary is a shining gem of crime fiction, writing in both a cold, hard-as-rock noir narrative mixed with the letters of a young college student to her mother. Her dead mother. Who used to be involved with drugs, possibly a cartel, herself.
Sadie Holland is trying to live her own life, maybe find a boyfriend, make decent grades, and be an average college student when she is unfortunately put in a position that--while not selling drugs--makes her look guilty enough to become a criminal informant. I won't really spoil the novel for you--there's danger, for sure, and it's lurking around every turn of the page of this novel--but you should be very aware: this is possibly the greatest book by a straight man since I breezed through Alex Segura's Pete Fernandez series. Segura himself is a sort of pupil of Swierczynski's, and I really don't know what to brag about more--knowing someone who mentored Segura, or knowing that Segura was the mentee or Mr. Swierczynski. Both roles deserve bragging rights, and let's be real--I am queer as fuck and I do not normally bag about straight men who intimidate me in the writing community, mostly because there aren't many who do. Throw in Daniel Woodrell, Larry McMurtry, and there are only a handful of other names who could be added to the list of straight men--and excluding Segura--straight white men--who make me want to devour their entire bibliography at record speed. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Laura Lippman backed Duane up by giving me her version of "READ THAT SHIT ALREADY" a few years ago. And thank god I finally did, but also, this is one of those books you're sad to have read at all, because it means you'll never have another "first reading" experience, given you don't give in and spend all your savings on electroshock therapy and forget the past six months of your life.
It would be hard to say that the writing in Swierczynski's novel is "immaculate" or "world-changing," mostly because he is able to slip in and out of so many voices, places, and people with such ease that it feels effortless, like Swierczynski typed this all out Jack Kerouac style (and yes there is mention of the Beats in the novel)--only, well, Jack Kerouac could have learned a thing or ten from Duane. Don't get me wrong, I loved reading Kerouac in eleventh grade when I was just as ironically un-woke as the next "No I'm not gay I just have an effeminate voice please don't ever talk to me again" literary wannabe. I only wish I had been able to read Canary then, and please, to all the friends receiving copies, thank me by naming your first children after me, or by somehow boosting me up in the literary community, or, better yet, buy ten copies of the book for your ten favorite people, even if they don't appreciate fine literature as much as we do.
Let me rattle off a few of those book review cliches that apply directly to this masterwork: it will have you on the edge of your seat. Swierczynski will knock your socks off with his literary prowess. He can somehow effortlessly inhabit the mind and voice of a young woman and understand all the complexities she faces in a post-Facebook world. He can also write from a. woman's point of view and not stick in the unnecessary "likes" and "oh my gods" that so many successful--wait for it--women writers put in their work to seem genuinely feminine. There is nothing false or condescending in the way Swierczynski approaches any of his characters, and it is truly a shame he hasn't released more books than he has, but in the same sense, this just means that every work he publishes is one to treasure. For a man who has mentored so many great, aspiring, and now world-shattering authors, and for a man who can earn the love and respect of a god like Laura Lippman, any of you who are reading this should be adding you to your (hopefully indie bookseller) shopping cart immediately and selecting the fasting shipping method, and that's only if your local bookseller is currently closed and you cannot race over there right now and snag a copy of the book I'm speaking of.
This world is tough. The United States government currently hates, as it always has, women, racial minorities, anyone who identifies on any level as queer, immigrants (including those seeking asylum in our country but the government wants to jeopardize their lives over), the poor and struggling lower and middle classes, really, let's be frank, everyone. And this government always has. And while I have admired Mr. Swierczynski from afar and am pretty sure he is as great a man as they come, and I recognize that his books will not fix every one of the social injustices our nation faces on a daily basis, perhaps you will consider buying any of his books, especially this book in particular, and spare yourself the grief of reading yet another headline about how much our government hates you for being you. Perhaps you will buy a book by this man, let him write more books that will help you escape, and when you come back from this escape, stronger than ever, you can fight to make things right. So while Swierczynski's novel only concerns itself with many and and not all social justice issues, perhaps you might be persuaded to know that buying one of his books will give your brain, your heart, and your mental health. a break, and in purchasing a copy of his book, you will enable a man who supports ALL of you to continue writing. It's a win-win-win whichever way you look at it.
Canary not only features one of the most endearing female presences in any book, written by man or woman, in the past several decades, it also features one of the most important messages our country is struggling with currently: coming to terms with its past, and deciding if it will make a brighter and better future for the people who have always been treated poorly, but deserve better. On that note, I will leave you with a link that Mr. Swierczynski asked me to share to a Noir at the Bar happening later this month, and also really encourage you to purchase his novel, which is genius. And I don't throw that word around for White. Straight. Men.
Much love to you all. I hope you read this book and support the writings of Mr. Swierczynski in the process.
Also, it would be a shame if I didn't mention that the novel does concern one of my favorite themes in any novel, ever: revenge, which is maybe what some of you are looking for right now.
In mid to late 2010, there was a lot of to-do about Jonathan Franzen's (admittedly O.K.) novel Freedom. It was publicized so heavily and one commenter, I believe from the New York Times, remarked that if women bothered publishing books of quality and length as Jonathan Franzen, they would be widely celebrated. I read Freedom. It was fun for a while, then long, then longer, then when-will-this-end, then someone digging something out of his own bowel movements. This has been one of the most celebrated books of the century thus far, and a favorite for book club selections and pretentious writers and readers alike.
In 2011, I was introduced to a world wonder by, well, another world wonder (read below), Megan Abbott. Megan went on and on about Christa Faust, and I have to admit, I was confused. This was Christa Faust's second "Angel Dare" novel, a pulp book about a former porn star turned porn executive who begins a series of books (unfortunately, there are only two so far) with "coming back from the dead" (one of the greatest first sentences I've ever read. My friend created a start-up at the time, and I made sure to make an account for myself (and for many other fake versions of myself) begging for copies of Christa Faust's books. I mean, Megan said they were gold. More than gold, actually. What's more than gold? Platinum? Oprah's piss?
I was absorbed with these books. I mean absorbed. Living with my roommate at the time, she claims she knocked on my bedroom door multiple times, opened the door and hollered for me for several seconds before I actually realized she was there. She looked at my books and said "Are these pornography?" I replied, "I mean, they're pulp, but they are about pornography." She was skeptical. While Black (although we have oddly been confused of being sibling before) she is pretty much the most vanilla person I've ever met. Not to mention, her version of "dangerous" are the Lifetime Movies where pregnant women make suicide pacts.
She borrowed the first and said she would read one chapter a night. She knocked on my door at two A.M. and said, "Can I borrow the second?"
We haven't talked in a while. Another long story that doesn't belong in this ode to Christa Faust. I do know this. She didn't read. She didn't like reading. She tried to read because she wanted to be a lawyer, but she didn't read. She did devour both Christa Faust books in approximately two days' time. And then she got angry at Christa Faust, in part because she loved Angel Dare, the protagonist of the series, and in part because she doesn't know what goes in to writing books, how long they take, how much they must be edited, how they have to get published, and even worse how hard it is for women--especially women as daring and frank as Christa Faust, a Vicki Hendicks for a different age.
These books are a force to be reckoned with. They are at once undeniably entertaining, with a low reader like my friend finishing both in two days, and a fast reader like other friends finishing in a matter of hours. Christa's Angel has adventures that take her all over the west, and she fights, and she resists, and she overcomes. She is the woman the women need. She is the woman who expresses her fears but persists anyway. She is the woman that is not afraid to curse and talk "vulgarly" about porn and everything involved while writing in her inner thoughts in words that some of my poet friends have compared to pure poetry. Faust has many gifts as a writer, and I can't think of one flaw.
The series begins with an attempted kill on Angel Dare (her name as a porn star), in Money Shot, an excellent series beginner. I would argue that it's a tour de force, but that would do its sequel Choke Hold little to no justice. While Money Shot is about revenge, both against her rapist and against men who are trying to involve women in sex trafficking, Choke Hold is a masterpiece that surpasses the Fran...who? novel by miles. In just a few hundred pages she compresses an epic for our times--not without Angel's witty remarks, graphic sex scenes, and nuanced observations about, well, everything. Choke Hold is a book that spans much more than what its pages cover, a story of survival, a story of Angel the savior, a story of love, a story of loss. Angel does not stop throughout the entirety of Choke Hold, and this is a book not to be reckoned with. Be prepared to laugh, cry, rip your hair out with fear and anxiety, and then follow Christa Faust on Twitter and just hope she follows you back (HINT, CHRISTA, HINT. WE ALL LOVE YOU). Money Shot is by no means a masterpiece, so that makes me wonder--what do I term Choke Hold? It's beyond a tour de force, it's beyond an epic, it's beyond anything I've ever read before or read sense. Never have I experienced such joy and been so absorbed in a series, and never have I recognized a woman experience such injustice by not being paid by hoards of readers desperate to see another Angel Dare novel.
I'm desperate for another Angel Dare novel. Are you? Maybe sell your gently or roughly used copies of any and all Jonathan Franzen novels and send the money and receipts to Christa? Maybe buy a copy of both books for all your friends and yourself? Maybe anonymously mail a copy to your grandmother and notice how worn the book is on her nightstand which she tries to hide from you? Christa has hinted to me there is another Angel Dare novel coming, and she bigger than Choke Hold. So--if that's true--this book could, just by existing, take Trump down. This book could stop global warming.
All jokes aside, these books (along with Christa's other books available in print, electronic books, and audiobooks) should be bought, cherished, loved, and shared.
There's a new king wordsmith in town. Her name is Christa Faust.
A note: Megan was kind enough to send me a copy of GIVE ME YOUR HAND last year. I read it in the hospital during one of many surgeries. It was a terrible time in my life, and while I wrote a review then, I decided soon after I would not publish that review. Re-reading and re-writing the review has taken some effort, as I've had to take great strides to distance the book and its genius from a horrible time in my life. This is not just a revision, but a completely new way of thinking about Abbott's book, as nearly a year has gone by since then. xx
It's an understatement to say that the release of a new Megan Abbott book is something of an event. A major event. Since around 2010 or so, with the publication of The End of Everything, her first modern novel ("modern" referring to the 1980s), Abbott has released a book every two years during peak summer months, the heat sweltering, the days long, perfect for curling up in a chair or couch or bed and plowing through a book. I have never finished one of Megan's books in less than a day, and not because they are shorter than other author's novels. They are compelling, and once inside the narrator's (or narrators) head space, one is driven to the end of the novel, to the novel's undoubtedly explosive conclusion.
I cannot count on one hand the number of people, friends, fellow-writers, fans, who have told me they've called out of work today to read Megan's book. One of the friends said she had the flu.
Me: "Is it flu season already?"
Friend: "What the fuck does it matter? It's Megan Abbott season."
Touche. I can say, now that I am long past this period of employment, that I even called out when You Will Know Me was released. If you know anything about me, you know I am Megan's biggest fans, and she is one of my most treasured friends. She is also a mentor in many ways, one of her pieces of advice having stuck with many through the years (and playing a part in my asking questions during an interview, or reading my own writing--"Never judge one's characters."
I met Megan ten years ago. I could sloppily go on to talk about our friendship, mentorship, fanship, whatever. I have stood firmly by my belief that Dare Me is not only her best book, but the finest novel written (tied with Laura Lippman's After I'm Gone) this century. I do not think there is *one* great American novelist. I think Laura Lippman, Alafair Burke, Lori Roy, and so on (the list is endless) could stand in Megan's place as well.And yet Megan's talent is unrivaled in many ways. She writes fluidly, understanding girls in both an empathetic and fearful way, portraying female relationships like none other. This is understood universally, or at least in every kiss-ass New York Times review I've come across every two years, along with other publications who are watching Megan explode with talent and power. And it's time that women explode with talent and power. It's time that women take what is theirs (although not solely theirs)--literature, crime literature to be more specific, and a whole new canon to be examined and reinvented and understood by a new generation.
Megan has gone on record, if I remember correctly, by saying she would never kill off a woman or girl (murder wise) in a book. I cannot give away spoilers for her magnificent new novel, Give Me Your Hand, but it's fair to say that times change. Things are different. Megan is active in speaking out (while remaining civil) against the travesties taking place in our country. She is also a very important feminist, and possibly a genius. I personally think MENSA should test her out but whatever, that may just be me. Megan does not work through plot alone, nor through character alone. She is like many of her female contemporaries in allowing multiple facets of writing combine and flourish under her skillful hands. Once, there was a time when people--men, mostly--might have claimed that Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett created noir. Well, it's impossible to deny now that women are reinventing the "genre" (I've studied noir, and it's definitely hard to say whether noir is a genre or style or what have you, but for now, we'll call it a "genre"). Many articles have gone on to argue that Megan is no longer a crime writer, but a literary writer (their way of saying crime is not to be taken seriously, and Megan is to be taken seriously--a sentiment I'm pretty sure Megan might not be happy with). Nine books later, we have Give Me Your Hand, and, based on the summary, it's the last book I would have imagined combatting with Dare Me for that special place in my heart, the book I yearn to read again and again. Yet, this is it. This is the book with which, in my opinion, Megan has outdone herself, taking a novel that was already perfect and creating a novel that is somehow even more perfect. Goddamn, I feel sorry for Jonathan Franzen.
The book deals largely with combatting scientists over who might be granted a position to study an extreme form of PMS. Megan weaves in the straight man (and, perhaps, gay man too)'s fear of menstrual blood with murder. I don't recall there being one, but I'm surprised Abbott didn't make a Paul Thomas Anderson reference in the book--I'll make it for her, if that's all right. Pick up the book. And know this: THERE WILL BE BLOOD.
in this more than fantastic novel, we find two female protagonists battling each other and several men for a spot on the research team. This could eventually grant them so much success, the success they've been fighting for nonstop for years. Yet things unravel. They always do in crime books, and especially in Megan Abbott books. There is no villain. Just as Megan has advised me, she does not judge her characters, and no one is vile and evil or out for revenge--everyone is doing their best, trying to succeed, attempting to get to a place in life, in the day, where they are happy with themselves and what they've accomplished. And Megan does add some strong feminist notions, but oh so subtly. She also comments through her writing on women being pitted against each other, as Jessica Knoll, the great author of Luckiest Girl Alive, has been actively outspoken about and working against for some time now. Women do fight. Women combat one another for success, for hope, for a future. They are told bluntly they have to work many times harder than their male colleagues, they are told that they may not succeed no matter what they do, and this is mixed in with a sense of dread that Megan--and only Megan--can accomplish through her novels. Sure, we know there' sa crime at the beginning. We have a pretty strong clue as to what has happened. Eventually, before the action gets really intense, we learn the truth. But it's only a half-truth. A part-truth. Something women crime writers are great at doing--see Laura Lippman's Sunburn, Alafair Burke's The Wife, Alison Gayline's If I Die Tonight, for other great examples from earlier this year. These women know how to work. They own their work. And, if I'm being incredibly frank, their own their writing--and all writing, really. These writers work as hard as the female protagonists in Megan's novel, and they have earned their spots in the literary community. They are unstoppable.
I'm going to state something very obvious. Blood is the source of life, whether signaled through a woman's monthly period or through the gushing neck of one character midway through the book. The loss of the blood during a period and the loss of blood from the neck wound are seen as equally repulsive by separate characters--and separate sexes at that. The blood motif is obvious and flows freely throughout the novel. Blood does, after all, run through every living person's veins, and every person in this novel is complicit in one way or another. While I wasn't shocked by the small twists in the ending of this book--or, I should say, *as* shocked--as in Dare Me, the book does end appropriately--asking more questions than realizations, and flipping the table completely on the protagonist. These women are both rivals and confidants. And the latter role might be their very undoing.
Megan is, quite bluntly, the queen of noir. And the next Great American Writer. She combines the language of Raymond Chandler with the characterization found in the greatest literary novels. One of her greatest talents, as mentioned before, is the seemingly effortless way she manages to force the reader into a sense of dread. We push our way in at a steady pace--although sometimes it goes faster, more frantic--because we cannot stand what is happening, and we love what is happening, and we know nothing and everything all at once. The twists are neither cheap nor unearned. It is questionable whether the characters receive any redemption at the end--a great idea might be to purchase a copy yourself and decide on your own. If love of language doesn't get you going, this novel is not lacking on plot, and in a way unlike some of her previous novels--novels since Dare Me--we receive the payoff we need but don't deserve. And, frankly, Megan is a national fucking treasure. She is the author we need but don't deserve. People are finally recognizing this. People are finally understanding, in the past few years, that Megan is a force to be reckoned with. Called the next Hollywood novelist, writing frequently about female rage, Megan leans into another quote--another piece of advice--that she has given me plenty, plenty, plenty of times, and it is oh so true. It's a quote from her beloved Shirley Jackson. Something along the lines of if you write it away regularly, nothing can ever truly get to you.
I have been breathless since I read Give Me Your Hand last year. I have waited for books to topple it, and some have come close. I have understood. in my mind, there is no author like Megan Abbott. She is kind and loving and so generous in her knowledge and advice and understanding, which perhaps is the reason she is such a phenomenal writer. But beneath everything--as in with recent articles she's written about female rage, dealing with Sylvia Plath or otherwise--Megan is an author not-to-be-fucked-with. She has earned her spot, from her very beginning in writing one of the most widely-known dissertations while earning her PhD, followed by Die A Little, which earned her fandom from the most sincere and strongly passionate noir fans. She also has made me realize not only my potential as a novelist, but my love for noir and crime and suspense and thrillers.
When I first met Megan, I asked her for a list of books I might break into crime fiction with. I wasn't aware I was already reading crime--as Attica Locke has famously stated, all books are crime books--but she gave me the names of Daniel Woodrell, Laura Lippman, Gillian Flynn, among others. I have been privileged to watch Megan soar from genius writer to national treasure. I have watched a lot of it unfurl. I have loved this book for so long, and I am hoping that you too will pick up a copy of the book and find something of yourself in it, whether you're a man or a woman, trans or cis, etc. There is so much to love about this book, and so much to learn from it. It is also her longest work of fiction yet. And not in a tiresome, dragged out way. Every word is earned. Every action is understood. Every twist is believed. Every heart is broken.
Today is National Megan Abbott Appreciation Day (or, since I'm posting this so late, yesterday was--). Her twitter is @meganeabbott and you can also find her on facebook and instagram. She may not get back to you right away, but god knows she likely will. She may not be the fourth wave feminist savior we're all looking for, but she understands the human heart in ways sociopaths like Trump and other politicians are incapable of doing so. She is one of the very, very few authors who make me wonder: Can reading really make a difference? No, not all books make a difference. No, not all writers are compassionate human beings. But I do think it's time that, like Megan's beloved Philip Roth, we recognize the new Great American Novelist
Her name is Megan Abbott. She has my heart, and if she doesn't have yours already, she will soon.
And she will change the world.