Megan E. Abbott’s DARE ME

NO SPOILERS.

I’m not done with Dare Me.

I can only read it when I won’t be interrupted, when no-one will talk to me, when I’m not at work or on break or homeschooling the kids or telling them to brush their teeth.

I need a certain quiet, to read any of Megan Abbott’s books.

Dare Me is the only one I haven’t read, yet. I’m halfway through, and I am waiting to have another chance at it.

There is a quality to Abbott’s books — all of them, every single one of them — that I finally put my finger on this past week.

Last Thursday my family and I went to Valleyfair.

Valleyfair is the local amusement park. My whole family loves Valleyfair. The kids have been going since they were five years old, they are thrill ride veterans. There is a roller coaster there that we all love. It’s called Wild Thing.

The hallmarks of Wild Thing are the steep drop and the speed. The first drop has serious hang time. There is a lot of free fall on this ride. We all love it, love the drop and the speed and the g-forces in the turns.

Every time I ride it, though, love notwithstanding, I get to the pause at the top of the first hill and I think, I don’t think I want what happens next.

Yet what happens next is, at that point, fore-ordained. There is no getting out of it. The drop is coming, and my entire body will be preparing itself for death, only to be gloriously alive seconds later. Alive, and moving exhilaratingly fast. I love roller coasters. Beat the devil.

Reading Megan Abbott books is like the time-elastic wait at the top of the first hill on Wild Thing.

I know, going into an Abbott book, that horrible things are going to happen. Half the time the character telling me this story also knows it. Half the time, the awful thing has already happened and this is the slow, steady, fact-filled recitation of an inevitable horror. By the time I start the first page, it’s already too late. There is no stopping what will come after.

Yet the wait, the wait for the bad things makes my heart pound. It’s exciting, this wait. I don’t know exactly what will happen; my body can’t quite remember Wild Thing from visit to visit, and my mind can’t quite hold onto the calm, steady pace of Abbott’s prose. I read it and I want, I need, to know more. I have to know how it is going to happen. I have to know, even as I think I don’t want to see it unfold.

I purely love how this woman writes a damn book.

My god, do I love it.

I have, in various locations, the thirty-page beginnings of various novels. At least three of those false starts wish to high heaven that they could be Megan Abbott novels when they grow up. They can’t be. They won’t grow into novels, not those stories, not the way they’ve started over and over again. I am not Abbott, and I cannot do the glorious thing she does in her books. I cannot make evil so comprehensible, mistakes so understandable, poor choices so obvious and clear and neat. I cannot make the alchemy of misunderstanding so transparent to the reader while so opaque to the character telling me the facts.

More to the point, I cannot make every sentence throb with a character’s emotions while that same character is calm, cool, dispassionate — numb to the events they are reciting to me. I cannot do that, and I can’t even find it in my heart to envy her for her talent. I am too pleased, too giddily thrilled to be able to read her books for any envy. There is uncountable value in Abbott’s ability to render flawed, sometimes detestable human beings so clearly. From start to finish we know how and why these terrible human train wrecks occur. We know and we judge, but it’s awfully hard to condemn out of hard. It is hard to say we would have done better.

Megan Abbott puts more empathy into the world. She creates understanding. She makes it easier for people to look around and see not Other but Same.

The world is richer for Megan Abbott’s books.

I really need to finish Dare Me.

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