Teenagers are terrifying.
Teenage girls are especially terrifying.
Megan Abbott has, for the last few books, gone deep into the secret worlds of the modern american teenage girl. Not simply make up secrets and adolescent experiments with drink, drugs and sex but the rivalries, the determination, the solipsism and the power that they wield, over themselves and others.
Dare Me takes a subject that should be ripe for mockery – cheerleading and manages to find the steely, spartan core that drives these young women. She is sparing, disciplined in her prose and has a anthracite hard grasp of plot and dynamics in grafting this world onto a tale that starts from thwarted desires and rivalries before it becomes something tragic and nihilistic. She describes an environment as vicious and beautiful as the Amazon but finds the tenderness and the wounds, mining them for truths that are uncomfortable and powerful. Reading this, you barely draw a breath throughout and it holds the ugly visceral physicality of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club or F X O’Toole’s Rope Burns whilst also capturing the sheer beauty and determination of the cheerleaders.
It moves like a boxer in the ring, smooth and sinuous, and it bursts with feeling but it never feels sentimental. Abbott, like Gillian Flynn, comes from the secret lives of women with hard shining truths. I know women wear make up, but I know it’s war paint and so does Abbott.