What to Read This Weekend: Megan Abbott's Intoxicating Noir


Much unlike many a magazine editor who recommends you buy all sorts of crap that they most likely got for free, your Jezebel staff doesn’t get jack shit (other than books, unsolicited, and these books were not received for free). And that’s how it should be. But on our own time, in our personal lives, we still buy stuff. So this is Worth It, our recommendation of random things that we’ve actually spent our own money on. These are the things we buy regularly or really like, things we’d actually tell our friends about. And now we’re telling you.

A great book has the power to transport you to a complex, fully realized world nothing like your own, and over the past year or so, I’ve become completely obsessed with the works of Megan Abbott. With film noir vibes, strong female characters, terrible thrills and dark surprises in every chapter, I’ve gobbled up every single thing she’s written.

Honestly, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I was scared. As a writer I stand in terrified awe of Megan Abbott’s skills. Her writing is delicious, evocative, detailed, swoon-worthy. While reading a couple of her books, I found myself taking pictures of the text. That’s how enamored I am of her crisp sentence construction, sparkly dialogue and treacherous, villainous, smooth-talking characters .

Here’s how The Song Is You — a novel set in 1949, revolving around a missing second-rate Hollywood starlet known to have mobster boyfriends — begins:

The whistle isn’t jaunty, not Doris Day. It’s low and slow and the actor Bob Cummings would remember its hot zing for some time.
Ah yes, that bit player of definite note.
“You sound happy,” he says to her, his head half turned, leaning back in his springy dressing-room chair so he can catch a glimpse of her in the corridor.
She stops, swivels her hips, and looks back at him, black eyes crackling.
“I am,” she says, almost a husky coo. She laces her long, red-tipped fingers along the door frame. “I have a new romance.”
“Is it serious?” he says, flirting hard. Has he played this game with her before? He lets his arms dangle boyishly from the sides of his chair.
“Not really,” she replies, titling her head. Then, with a klieg-light leer lewd as a burlesque dancer with but infinitely greater appeal: “But I’m having the time of my life.”

Fuck. “Klieg-light leer lewd as a burlesque dancer” slays me. Just say it out loud, feel the things it does to your tongue. Sinful.

In Queenpin, a novel set in 1960s Las Vegas, in which a “mob luminary” named Gloria Denton takes a younger woman (the narrator) under her wing, there’s this passage, when Gloria asks the narrator if she wants a ride:

My pop had warned me about this kind of invitation, but only from jumpy-eyed or slick-faced men, salesmen and bar patrons, barmen and kitchen help, suppliers and deliverers, custodians and busboys. Never from anyone in spiky heels with a gold-clasped clutch of creamy leather under her arm and gold button earrings and a sharp green rock balancing on one long finger, a sleek charm bracelet swaying from one wrist, dangling like a promise.
Who was I to say no?

I could go on and on about Gloria Denton and her gloves and hats and seductive comebacks (“Are you sure?” “Sure as summer rain, baby.”) and my friend Bex and I have spent hours trying to imagine who would play her in a movie (young Faye Dunaway peppered with young Ellen Barkin crossed with young Sharon Stone?). The point is this: Megan Abbott’s works are page-turners, gently submerging you into intoxicating, dream-like worlds, first spinning you, then churning you, so that the dream slowly becomes a bit of a nightmare, and then spitting you out, sputtering and somehow longing to go back. Addictive.

While many of Abbott’s books are set in the past, her latest, Dare Me, is set in the present — and just came out in paperback. Dare Me is called a “searing novel of friendship and betrayal,” and is set in the fascinating, lively, dangerous, twisted, intense, sick, disturbing and frightening world of high school cheerleaders. From the official website:

Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy are tough, inseparable, invincible. No pair more charismatic or sophisticated. No pair more dangerous.
But with the fall term, their new coach arrives and things begin to change. She has plans for the cheerleading squad. All sleek poise and cool command, the girls are soon entirely in her thrall. Faster, harder, higher, thinner, the stakes raised, their world contracting, they compete to risk everything.
She, however, has been crossing a line of her own.

Dare Me is being adapted into a feature film (someone is calling it Fight Club meets Heathers), and rumor has it Natalie Portman wants to play the coach. Don’t be that person who reads the book after the movie comes out. Dare Me — like Die a Little, Bury Me Deep, Queenpin and The Song Is You — is worth it.

Worth It only features things we paid for ourselves and actually like. Don’t send us stuff. To see all previous Worth It columns, click here.

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