If my university degree in Gothic literature has given me anything, it is an appreciation for dark literature. And no one does dark literature like Megan Abbott does dark literature. And I mean soul-searchingly, borderline explicit, breathtakingly illicit dark literature!
This brooding atmospheric quality is something that permeates throughout the entirety of her work and is linked by the ongoing protagonist of her most recent fictions – the teenage girl.
Whilst originally writing in the noir crime genre, Abbott has since moved to penning dark, contemporary, young adult stories where the themes of promiscuity and philosophic ruminations still remain.
The recent slew of teenage girls she has created don’t represent the norm of the teenage girl populace; they represent both the pinnacle of the high-school elites and the hidden, dark underbelly of that demographic. They are both the sickly sweet girls next doors and the underage drinking, sexually promiscuous girls yo’ Mama warned you about; all wrapped up in one neat, shiny-haired, pout-perfected, long-legged bundle.
They are both the girls I deplored in school – my teenage girl act slanted more towards the rebellious emo – and the girls I coveted – the envy of every girl and the wet dream of every boy. Perfectly manicured and hair-lacquered, skirts hitched and jeans slung low, they were sex on an adolescent stick. Or at least that’s what they attempted to represent. Little did they know that this was sex represented in its most baseless and obvious of ways.
There is a measure of power in their pretence: they have managed to conquer the hierarchy of their immediate social circles with this act. Their downfall, however, is failing to grasp that their imitation at adulthood is what will prove their downfall when they move beyond communing with their peers.
They exist in a no-man’s-land, a purgatory, an in-between state. They are testing their boundaries and discovering who the person they want to become will be. For now, however, the person they are is an actress. One who can fool their cast members but not the wider audience. Those with age and experience can see through their carefully formulated facades to the scared child still hovering below the surface. And this is often where the thrilling aspects of Abbott’s fiction start to emerge…
The reader is also invited to see through the facade to the person inside. Whether protagonist or focal point of the story, there is a distance created between reader and adolescent female. This distance emulates much of the audience’s own high school and teenage realities. Reading Abbott’s work is like turning back the clock and satiating all of my own voyeuristic wishes to see what lay between the immaculate exterior of the queen bee’s facade. And Abbott indulges. I can only imagine it is the same for others. And I think that is the point. We can’t all be elite, and so a large portion of the readership will remember their own distance from the type of girl represented. And it is with a sick sense of glee that we watch them fall.
Megan Abbott makes the politics of teenage girls look as brutal as Game of Thrones. Her unapologetic and organic representation reveals the poignancy hidden behind the tenacious and remorseless exterior of both the writing and the characters. She reveals harsh truths with her fiction and, I believe, this is where the power of her penmanship lays. She empowers the reader by letting them find the truth for themselves whilst remaining an impartial mediator between the fictional world and reality. Powerful and proud: Abbott, her writing and her characters have stories to tell and they aren’t going anywhere until they do!