Tag Archives: Gillian Flynn

Dare Me by Megan Abbott (or Cheerleaders are scary)


(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.)

Comments Off on Dare Me by Megan Abbott (or Cheerleaders are scary)

Filed under entertainment

Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL…Reese Witherspoon as AMY?

A NOTE ABOUT MY REVIEW: So my review of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl will be split into two parts: one that everyone can read (no spoilers) and one that only people who finished the book can read. Actually, everyone *can* read both parts. It’s a free country after all. You can read whatever you want. But if you plan on reading Gone Girl, I don’t recommend reading the second part of this post. The book is a thriller–much depends on the your discovering details as it moves along.

REVIEW FOR EVERYONE: Let me say first–this novel belongs on the NYT Bestseller list. The list is currently populated by books that pale in comparision (*cough* Fifty Shades) in terms of pyschological insight, engaging story and characters, and sharp wit. This book made me smarter. Seriously, I learned new words and lots of other useful shit. (If C.K. reads this post and then reads Gone Girl, he will definitely want to know what “useful shit” I learned.)

A few good points

  • Strong narrative voice: I should say “voices.” There are two narrators: Nick and Amy (in the form of diary entries). Both are intriguing, realistic, and reveal deafening psychological problems. I don’t like either of them and yet I’m completely obsessed with both.
  • The twist: I’m not going to say what it is, of course. But I will say that I didn’t see it coming AT ALL. With thrillers (either in film or books), your brain can’t help but try to figure things out before the author/director gets you there. It’s part of the amusement, I think. You want to have the “gotcha” feeling before the protagonist gets puts all the clues together.
  • The pacing: This is the most perfectly paced book I’ve read in a long time. Nothing is superfluous. Everything is meaningful. Flynn’s writing is tight–either providing details for the kidnapping/murder or the illuminating some deep recess of the character’s mind (and in the process defining his/her moral code).

One disappointment: I didn’t feel satisfied at the end. More on that below in the second part of the review.

James Marsden should play Nick Dunne.


REVIEW FOR FELLOW READERS OF GONE GIRL: Oh my GOD! Part Two of this novel, people! I didn’t see it coming. Actually, I saw some hints of it coming but still, nothing jived with Amy’s personable diary entries. I absolutely adored that first or second chapter in part two when she describes how she framed Nick, how she hates her parents, how she did it all to punish him for cheating on her. The framing is just impressive–you know you’re dealing with a very intelligent narrator. The resentment for Rand and MaryBeth had me exclaiming “Of course! Who wouldn’t hate those parents? They took her trust fund!”

And if the framing has you loving how intelligent Amy is, the punishment of Nick damns her as a reliable narrator. I love a good unreliable narrator (Hello, Nick Carraway in Gatsby!). Furthermore, Nick Dunne was the unreliable one / the unlikeable one but after the shift, Amy fills that role. As a reader I was totally on Nick’s side–the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. And the scope and dedication of such an elaborate punishment reveals Amy to be a sociopath fit for an orange jumpsuit.

My one disappointment was the ending. However, I think my reading this on a Kindle killed it for me. I laid down in bed Monday night and looked at the Kindle: 94% at the bottom. I thought–I can finish this tonight. But with 6% left there has to be another twist. And I was spoiled with how beautifully paced the twists in the narratives were. Nick has to get Amy somehow. Boney has to figure something out. Jacquelyn Collings finally gets a sympathetic soapbox in the media and a really good lawyer. But the novel ended abruptly as 97% and went into acknowledgements. Where’s my last 3%? Where’s my twist?

But nothing! Nick just stays with Amy because she’s having the baby he always wanted. That baby, by the way, has no chance. Flynn created a completely innocent victim. Who would want to be endowed with those genes? So the only character who has my sympathy is the baby. However, I wanted vengeance despite not liking any of the victimized characters. And maybe that’s the point–Nick and Amy are screwed up and deserve each other. I guess Desi is just collateral damage.

Now, I’m reading Gregory Maguire’s Out of Oz, fourth and final in the Wicked Series. Talk about superb writing and getting smarter from reading. The man is a genius.

I read the wikipedia pages for the first three books: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Son of a Witch, and A Lion Among Men. I think I need to read them all again to be prepared for Out of Oz. So much rich history there.


Filed under entertainment

In the First Person

Many of you already know from the sample chapters provided on this site that my novel is told in first person. In fact, other than the prologue, the novel alternates between four points of view: Kylie Baines, Ben Carrick, Colette Baptiste, and Matt Tracy. I chose to tell the story this way because while the characters’ fates are intertwined and rich in history, they all drift in their own particular orbits. I needed four narrators to move the plot along as well. And I hope with this last edit that I’ve sharpened each narrative voice so that it’s entertaining for the reader, not distracting.

They all bring different qualities to the table. Kylie is leading a double life and the story revolves around her family, romantic relationships, etc. It’s completely neccessary that the reader see her perspective. Ben is more lighthearted and tells anecdotes about the friends in high school. Kylie would never tell an anecdote for sheer amusement but Ben seems genuinely interested in getting the group back together (like the good ole days) and therefore he easily dips into an idealized, slightly romanticized past. Colette, as Kylie’s cousin and the daughter of kingpin Denis Baptiste, is essential to the plot. She provides insights into the Baptiste family and fills in some of Kylie’s background (the time after high school but before the start of the novel). But Colette is spoiled rotten so she has none of Kylie’s seriousness.

And then there’s Matt Tracy. He was the last narrator I wrote into the story. I did so at the behest of a writer’s group I attended with C.K. when we lived in Santa Monica. Perhaps because Matt was the last narrative voice to take shape or perhaps because adding him was not my idea, he’s been the most difficult narrator for me. With the other three characters, I hear them in my head easily. Sometimes it takes a few hours to get a dialogue down and then several more to tighten it up but I always know what Kylie’s, Colette’s, and Ben’s take on the situation is going to be. Kylie will feel the gravity of the scene intensely and over-analyze her own part in it. Colette will dismiss anything that would require emotional maturity then feel guilty for doing so, all while cracking jokes about the other characters. Ben will feel the scene more acutely than Colette but he really doesn’t have much at stake. He’s happily engaged and about to start his Masters program. But Matt is a strong, silent type. It’s challenging to give a voice to someone who would prefer not to chime in.

I say all this because three of the full manuscript requests came back as “thanks but no thanks.” Actually, I shouldn’t make it sound so cavalier. The agents took the time to give some great feedback that extended beyond “it just didn’t fire me up to sell it.” One of the main critiques is about the narration. One agent said that towards the end of the book, my narrators seem fashioned from the same cloth. It’s a fair critique and I worked hard these past few weeks to rectify it. I think I owe this agent a thank you. I believe I have a more polished book now. But another agent said that she didn’t like the first person narrators switching all the time. She wanted to invest in one person and hear the whole thing from his/her point of view.


All this got me wondering: should I have written this book in the omniscient third person? Or even limited third person and used Kylie’s POV?

Personally, I like first-person narration. It’s one distinct voice. I don’t have to like the narrator or want to talk to him/her. But I’m more excited to read the book if I do sympathize with the narrator. I also enjoy the changing perspectives. The Help and Gone Girl are good examples. For the former, I loved all three narrators. For the latter, I’m only a few chapters in but I don’t like anyone yet. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like the story so far.

Third person narration is fine but in my reading experience, the author needs to chose one character to focus on. Furthermore, the limited third person often clumsily dips into other character’s minds. Even the goddess of novel writing, Jane Austen, does this. I taught Pride and Prejudice several times at high school level and reread it each time. In the beginning of the novel, when I’m supposed to dislike Darcy along with everyone else in Meryton, I get glimpses of his feelings for Elizabeth and I feel a little cheated of the big reveal.


But I digress. I’m really writing this to find out what other readers think.

Do you like first-person narration or third? And why? 

Comments Off on In the First Person

Filed under North Shore / South Shore