Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book 130: Die A Little

"The words, their whispery, insinuating tones, their voices blending together- I can't tell them apart, they seem the same, one long, slithery tail whipping back and forth. My head shakes with the sounds, the hard urgency, and my growing anxiety at being somehow involved in this, even if by accident, by gesture."

Dates read: March 2-6, 2017

Rating: 6/10

Ah, the American Dream. A loving spouse, 2.5 kids, a 4-bedroom 3-bathroom home with a white picket fence, and a Golden Retriever named Lucky. Baseball games, road trips, and family hikes with a picnic lunch brought along. There have been no shortage of movies and TV shows, from Twin Peaks to American Beauty, that try to roll back the curtain and show the dysfunction that lurks behind even those who seem to have what we're told to want. But the genre most dedicated to showing the seamy underbelly of America and our dream is noir.

When we think of noir, we usually think of a morally compromised cop at the center of the story, a femme fatale, and often some kind of good girl set against her. And Megan Abbott's debut novel, Die A Little, has all of these elements. But it's not a straightforward noir. The driver of the action is the good girl, schoolteacher Lora King, and her cop brother Bill is the one that she has to save from the clutches of the femme fatale: his wife, Alice.

Bill and Lora are a closely bonded sibling pair: their parents died when they were teenagers, and they've been all the other could really count on ever since. But their cozy life in Los Angeles sharing a home and serving as each other's support system is thrown into turmoil when Bill meets Alice, a lovely and charming wardrobe assistant at a movie studio. He's smitten and they marry and set up their own housekeeping fairly quickly. Alice is the perfect little wife, energetically keeping the home and throwing delightful parties for Bill's police coworkers and their wives. She soon becomes employed at Laura's school teaching home ec. But there are cracks in her shiny surface: she has a best friend who's always coming by with fresh bruises and dark insinuations, and questions about Alice's claimed teaching certification start to pop up, and soon Lora is wondering who her brother is really married to.

What exactly is in Alice's past? Lora's concern for her brother leads her down a twisty, winding path that draws her into drugs, prostitution, and Hollywood clean-up men. The way the story unravels is compelling and enjoyable, but the weakness is the characters. While Alice is drawn vividly (the villain is oftentimes the most interesting character in morality tales), Bill is a cipher, and Lora's development is honestly not especially believable. A naive teacher manages to take on an investigation of sophisticated underworld players and put nary a foot wrong? It seems Lora "just knows" how to react in situations which would have been terrifyingly alien to someone of her background a little too often for my taste. But if you don't think about the little shortcuts that Abbott takes too hard and let yourself get drawn into its well-created atmosphere, you'll enjoy it. I've got several other of Abbott's works on my TBR, and this book has me intrigued to get into her catalog.

Tell me, blog friends...what's your favorite noir (book or movie)?

One year ago, I was reading: Migraine (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: Devil In The White City

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