(I wrote this for people who read Abbott’s book already.)
If you weren’t already frightened by the competitive cheerleaders you see on ESPN2, you certainly will be after reading Megan Abbott’s novel Dare Me. The book, which follows second-in-command Addy Hanlon as she is torn between Top Girl Beth and Coach Colette French, is a vivid depiction of the incestuous, competitive sub-culture. The cheerleaders are powerful, self-serving individuals but also a force to be reckoned with when they act as one body. Abbott constantly builds the image of one connected body/spirit as she describes the girls doing stunts. And this almost-mutant-like physical connection carries over to their loyalty to each other in the most scandalous of circumstances. They are indeed the scariest version of Voltron ever to grace the pages of a paperback.
Let’s talk about the plot. Nothing new here. It’s actually bland and predictable. Really. Try to imagine yourself pitching this read to a friend. It’s Mean Girls, Heathers, Babysitters’ Club on steriods. Maybe not the last one. The point is that Abbott uses a very “used” plot structure and makes it new, unpredictable, and at times, horrifying. Abbott’s writing chops are impressive to say the least. Dare Me, similar to Gone Girl, features tight, controlled prose. Like the textual version of a Hitchcock film. You discover ONLY what the writer wants you to know, what the filmmaker wants you to see. Any brilliant deductions you make are NOT due to your brilliance but due to the curating of the story.
Sorry. I think you’re smart.
No, really. I do.
So let’s talk about how the predictable plot is rendered unpredictable by the author. In my opinion, Abbott achieves the suspense in two ways. First, the creation of narrator/protagonist Addy Hanlon. Addy is unsure of herself in the beginning and looking for an alpha-female to follow / model herself after. Because Addy trusts Coach, her processing of the Sarge’s murder is unreliable and adds to the reader’s suspense. What’s most impressive about Addy is that she finds her own power in the latter half of the novel. The last chapter left me with a sense of discord–almost as creepy as the end of Gone Girl.
Second, Abbott’s depiction of the world of a competitive cheerleading team is amazing. Just as interesting as the question “Who killed the Sarge?” is the inner-workings of the team and the hierarchy, and fight for dominance between Beth and Coach. And if I may flex my English-major-muscle, the team culture is further reinforced by the presence of Sarge and his boys.
Questions for you…
1. Do you think Dare Me should be a movie? (I think that Gone Girl would be awesome as a movie but Dare Me will be seriously diminished as a story in cinematic form.)
2. Who’s your “Top Girl”: Beth, Addy, or Coach? (As I mentioned above, I liked Addy the best.)