“That’s what parenthood was about, wasn’t it? Slowly understanding your child less and less until she wasn’t yours anymore but herself…a girl who kept so much inside.”
All of Megan Abbott’s novels have a tense undercurrent to them, a sustained unease that permeates them from beginning to end, so that readers cannot help but read feverishly, hoping that the next page — the next conversation, the next chapter — reveals one more sliver of the story.
You Will Know Me is perhaps the most wonderful example of that mastery of suspense. From the opening pages, it is clear that the author is presenting these specific events to us because they are crucial to understanding the story that is unfolding, but she does not reveal why they are important…that she requires her readers to unearth for themselves. The story is only partially revealed throughout the novel. The novel’s characters are all constantly telling one another lies — or at the very least cloaked, half-truths — so that some of what they reveal leads readers astray, but some bring us closer to the ending; always only one small step at at time.
Telling the story of the Knox family, You Will Know Me introduces readers to the intensely competitive world of Olympics-level girls gymnastics. The exploration of this largely unknown community — the intense practices, the injuries, the jealousy, the costs it exacts on its gymnasts and their families — serves as the back-drop for an accidental death that may or may not relate to the Knox’s.
At the novel’s center is Devon Knox, a supremely talented gymnast who is preparing for her last possible chance at a spot on the US National team. Not only is Devon under pressure from relentless practices and strategy sessions, her entire family — mother Katie, father Eric and brother Drew — are also weighed down by the demanding preparations. It is Katie who narrates to readers Devon’s path to toward gymnastic super-stardom and the oversized toll it has taken on them all. Katie presents a family that has committed everything to Devon’s success: house crumbling and mortgaged to the hilt; work lives stymied; their younger son largely ignored; their marriage built almost exclusively on supporting Devon. At the start of the novel, readers find the Knox family weary and run-down from the demands of gymnastics, “all their duties hung like heavy raiment over then all of the time.”
Adding the the emotional toll of Devon’s competition preparations are the rumors and jealousies that swirl around her and her success: other gymnasts nasty and undermining, other parents suspicious of her talent and hoping to reveal her secrets to their own daughters. When rumors reach Katie and Eric about Devon, they largely brush them off as part of this constant undercurrent of resentment. Both of her parents believe they know all there is to know about their daughter; that all she thinks about is gymnastics and all that occupies her thoughts is competition. When a young man who works at the gym is killed in a hit-and run accident, Devon’s parents — indeed all of the parents in the story — must confront the fact that their children all keep parts of their lives hidden.
The stress of the murder and its subsequent investigation begin to tear apart first the tenuous camaraderie of the gym and ultimately the relationships between all of the members of the Knox family. All four of them are keeping secrets from one another and from the police and they all become desperate to extract themselves from the case so that they can, once again, pursue only one thing…Devon’s spot on the Olympic team.
As in all of her novels, Abbott explores at length how risky it is for anyone — parent, spouse, sibling — to think they know another’s secrets. Readers follow along as the Knox family struggles to come to terms with the lies they have all been telling one another and as they decide just how many lies they are willing to tell the rest of the world in order to protect their investment in Devon.
“Isn’t it a strange day when you realize you have no idea what’s going on in your kid’s head? One morning you wake up and there’s this alien in your house. They look like your kid, sound a little like them, but they are not your kid. They’re something else that your don’t know. And they keep changing. They never stop changing on you.”