“She poured the poison in my ear and now I am inflamed.” 192
Megan Abbott’s newest novel, once again, explores the intricacies of female relationships and the ways in which they teeter, precariously, between competition, compassion, and cruelty. Her stunning prose, her crystal clear insight into the minds of girls and women, and her willingness to stretch her plot lines into dark and twisted places all mean that her works are not to be missed.
At seventeen, Kit is poor and scrappy; assuming that — even with her obvious intelligence — she is destined for a life one step above that of her blue-collar parents. Diane is gorgeous, rich, and a star in the classroom and on the track. When the two meet, something is sparked inside them both. The harder one girl pursues a goal, the harder the other works to beat her to it; the faster one runs, the farther the distance the other covers. For the most part, the two girls acknowledge that their relationship is helping them both achieve more and more; but under the surface a sharp, dark edge is developing between the girls.
“We are bound, ankle to ankle, a monstrous, three-legged race. Accidental accomplices. Wary conspirators. Or Siamese twins, fused in some hidden place.” 3
Shortly before graduation, Kit glimpses something in Diane that is dark and terrifying. Realizing that she has what it takes to succeed without Diane’s relentless perfectionism to mirror, Kit ends their friendship before whatever lies beneath Diane’s sleek exterior become too much for her to keep under control.
“Her blood ran cold and merciless. The girl who could do anything. Who had a rage in her like a bomb in her chest. I readied myself for anything.” 201
The two women part for college, then graduate school, and Kit assumes she is free from whatever chaos is brewing in Diane’s future. Kit, propelled by scholarship money and a limitless desire to excel, is a star student and proceeds through college and a PhD program, finally landing as one of the elite doctoral students on a prestigious team of researchers.
When Diane arrives in the lab, newly hired to help the team embark on an ambitious study of PMS and PMDD, Kit’s orderly and sterile life is thrown into complete disarray. Now, she sees sabotage in every conversation she is not included in; sees competition and challenge in every action; and begins to act so erratically she could jeopardize her entire career trying to understand what, if anything, Diane wants from her. Diane’s return has unlocked something inside Kit, something that she is sure will lead only to destruction.
Set against the back-drop of case studies about women who become unhinged during their menstrual cycle, the stories of Kit and Diane and their dark and terrifying emotions — described in terms of blood, cycles, urges, hormones — adds a eerie and out of body quality to Abbott’s story. The overall effect is chilling and compelling, a book that is impossible to put down.
“Don’t we all feel we have something banked down deep inside just waiting for its moment, the slow gathering of hot blood? [It’s] the fear all men have that there’s something inside us that shifts, and turns. A living thing, once dormant, stirring now, and filled with rage.” 21-23
Three other outstanding novels — The Fever, Dare Me, and You Will Know Me — by Abbott have been reviewed on this site; those posts can be found following the tag “Megan Abbott.”