The Bitter Little World of MEGAN ABBOTT

Article by Guy Savage (JUL 08, 2009)

“There were places too murky ever to see through. The bloody fury of the night and everything storming up to it, none of it was ever going to lie flat and let her run knowing fingers across it and see all the patterns and shapes and meanings for what they were. There was no essence to them. It was all mayhem and blood and now preening sorrow” — BURY ME DEEP

Click here for interview with MEGAN ABBOTT

Gorgeous starlets who vanish from the elusive glitter of Hollywood, dingy dives that cater to the decadent, deviant tastes of the terminally depraved, and repressed housewives who clean by day and party by night–these are the sort of women who inhabit the novels of Megan Abbott, one of the most exciting names in today’s world of crime fiction. The Czar of Noir, author and film critic Eddie Muller gave Megan Abbott a tagline: Queenpin, and it’s a fitting name. Not only is it the title of Abbott’s third novel but it also refers to the idea that Abbott reigns in the world of noir. Males have long dominated this genre; consider the triptych of noir: Hammett, Chandler and Cain, and what of the creations of noir fiction? Immortalized in our minds are detectives Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. But where does that leave women in noir?

In noir fiction, the archetypal femme fatale emerges as the dominant female character, and of course the femme fatale is the polar opposite of that other oft-found character: the drab little woman in the kitchen. Megan Abbott’s novels stand apart from the herd because she successfully creates strong female types who transcend the typical noir boundaries. In noir fiction, female sexuality not only leads men astray, but it’s something to be controlled by men in a male-dominated world.

Abbott takes the idea of suppressed and controlled female sexuality and unleashes it through her female-centered novels. While men exist in the pages of Abbott’s novels, and they exist sometimes to control women’s sexuality, the male characters are not the centre of the novels, and each of Abbott’s novels pulse with the unslaked passion of the female protagonists. This is a remarkable feat and no small achievement, especially in The Song is You, the story of starlet Jean Spangler who disappears without trace. The tale of Jean’s disappearance is told through the eyes of a male, but the story remains firmly focused on a woman who isn’t there, and this, of course, recalls Laura–one of the greatest noir tales that also happens to have been written by a woman, Vera Caspary back in 1943.

In Queenpin, Abbott gives us two main female characters. There’s Gloria—a vicious “collector,” feared and respected by the males in her world. She promotes her protégé–an unnamed, ambitious twenty-two-year-old grooming her for the future. But is the future strictly professional? And while Abbott plays with traditional mother-daughter female roles, she cleverly lets other possibilities emerge.

It’s always rewarding to follow a novelist as they become increasingly more popular, and that’s exactly what’s happened with Megan Abbott. I came across my first Megan Abbott novel a few years ago, and incidentally, it wasn’t Megan Abbott’s first novel–it was her second, The Song is You. Even now a few years later, the novel still haunts me, and it was so good I was convinced to back track and pick up an out-of-print copy of Abbott’s first novel, Die a Little. From that point, I had to wait a year or so to get my hands on the third novel Queenpin, and this leads me to Abbott’s fourth novel, Bury Me Deep, based on the life and crimes of Winnie Ruth Judd.

In Bury Me Deep, it’s still a man’s world, and it’s a world inhabited by women who are the temporary playthings of the men who have the money and power to enforce society’s rules. The novel’s main character is Marion, an innocent, naïve and lonely woman whose much older husband finds her a job as a filing clerk in a medical clinic, and leaves her in a rooming house while he slaves away in Mexico, working as a doctor for a mining company. Left to her own devices, Marion is gradually led astray and slowly corrupted by a nurse named Louise. Louise pimps on the side in order to maintain her female lover’s drug habit, and so she feeds Marion to a local satyr, Joe Lanigan. The sexually naïve Marion is vulnerable to Lanigan’s sly courtship, and of course, she completely misunderstands the relationship, trading quick sex and the unchartered territory of female pleasure for vague promises. The book’s dark atmosphere of dread and impending doom is maintained steadily and relentlessly from page one. Even though Marion attends parties and imagines that her drab little life is “improving,” it’s obvious to the reader that the tension and drama can only go in one direction, and as Marion’s life spirals out of control, events take an explosive, irrevocable path.

In some ways, by reconstructing a real-life crime, Megan Abbott has returned to familiar territory in Bury Me Deep, but in this novel she enters the mind of a woman whose fling with sexuality leaves her scarred, damaged, and dangerously cornered by circumstance. Aspects of the crime committed by Winnie Ruth Judd remain a mystery, and Bury Me Deep addresses the mystery by its powerful recreation of the mind of a horribly damaged woman.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 20 readers
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster (July 7, 2009)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
EXTRAS: MF Interview with Megan Abbott
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our reviews of:


July 8, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Noir, y Award Winning Author

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