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.