The Friday Slot - author Megan Abbott
Megan probably came to prominence in the UK last year, when her novel The End of Everything was picked as a 'Richard and Judy Book Club' choice, but she'd been captivating audiences in her native U.S. long before that, with novels like Queenpin, The Song is You, Die a Little and the utterly superb Bury Me Deep, the story of Marion Seeley, a young woman abandoned in Phoenix in the 1930s by her husband, who finds a new life giving wild parties and making connections with shady characters, and which was nominated for the Los Angeles Book prize. She also has a PhD in English and American Literature from New York University, and is the author of the non-fiction work, The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir.
Her latest novel, Dare Me, is not the first book of hers I've read - she deals with female sexuality in a way that intrigues me, one of the reasons I found Bury Me Deep so fascinating. And she's also one of the most interesting crime/literary crossovers you can find. She has a wonderful, pared-back prose style that in Dare Me almost reaches its peak of spareness, as she explores the jealousies and almost deadly rivalry of two teenage girls, Addy and Beth. They're both members of a cheerleading squad, and it's a world that's very far away from the innocent 1950s (Megan writes about this world for the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/theater/megan-abbott-on-cheerleaders-in-pop-culture.html?pagewanted=all). In this, she resembles Joyce Carol Oates, another writer who excels at capturing the voices of teenage girls, and at tapping into the violence that lies underneath.
Me: You've written a novel about the power struggle between two cheerleaders, Addy and Beth, whose friendship is threatened by the arrival of the cool new older 'Coach'. What inspired this story?
MA: In my last novel, The End of Everything, one of the characters is a star field hockey player. To write a
few scenes, I watched girls play and was so struck by their savagery on the field. It was extreme and
also surprising and beautiful. That led me to cheerleading, which is the most dangerous sport for girls
in America. Watching squads do their stunts, including these elaborate pyramids, I was riveted by their
risk-taking, their cheers almost seem like battle cries. And the competitive instincts given full reign. The
pyramid itself was such a perfect metaphor for power. Wanting to be “top girl.” It seemed like a perfect
venue to explore how power operates among girls.
Me: You wrote about a missing teenage girl in The End of Everything. What is it about teenage girls that hooks you?
MA: I think there’s no age more intense, more treacherous, more perilous. The End of Everything was very much about being thirteen, about that turn from innocence into experience, which is a world-shattering
time. Dare Me, the girls are true teenagers, and their capacity to push themselves down dark corridors is
even more powerful. They are nearly adults, and their desire for the freedom that that promises can be
very dangerous. Addy so craves Coach’s adult life, which she sees as perfect, ideal. And she’s just wrong
about everything, and it sends her into some pretty hazardous places.
Me: You also seem interested in the 'femme fatale' figure - how much of an inspiration is that figure for your work?
MA: I’ve always been convinced by film theory on the subject, the notion that the femme fatale is really
an illusion. A symptom of male anxiety. She’s never a real person. She’s a spectre, representing all
that’s terrifyingly Other. I don’t have what I would consider a femme fatale in any of my books, but the
persistence of the “type” fascinates me. Our fear of the Other, its lure never goes away, does it? The
femme fatale represents what we want even as we know it will destroy us.
Me: How would you trace your own literary journey, from Die a Little, to Dare Me? What has changed for you, in terms of subject matter or prose style?
MA: Gosh, I have such a hard time figuring that out. My first four novels are set in the midcentury (the last
century), while End of Everything and Dare Me are set closer to the present day, but I think my main
interests—desire, temptation, guilt, power, longing—are always there. In all of them, someone wants
something they can’t have, and they find themselves going to all kinds of dark places to get it anyway.