It will forever mystify me, why I have not read Ms. Abbott before now. There is a moment right at the start of a novel, usually twenty or thirty pages in, where you say to yourself, “oh, I love this.” I said that on the first page of Dare Me. This book sucks you in, hard core.
Publishers Weekly (eh) called Dare Me, Fight Club for girls, but it is so much more than that. We’re thrown into a world so tightly wound that it burns, and even makes you bleed. So lets pretend you work for her publisher. How exactly do you market Fight Club for girls? This book isn’t exactly like Palahniuk’s masterpiece; it is a little bit more down to earth. Dare Me took me into the mind of a cheerleader. Wait, that’s a lie, it took me inside the warped and fucked up brains of two cheerleaders. It’s unlikely that I will ever look at a group of cheerleaders the same. I think what happens here is that people will know Abbott from her previous crime-pays-pulp and jump in for a ride that as it turns out, is slicker than deer guts.
Addy, and Beth. What a wonderful little pair that Abbott chisels to life, similar to Cal and Aron Trask of East of Eden. And to their father figure, or as close to any parental figure that Abbott will allow them, the one she presents isn’t quite as straight edge as Raymond Massey’s character. Their dilemma is how to please the only adult in the room, their coach, who is new to the squad, and essentially the stranger that’s come to town. She is married to a breadwinner; she has her crumb snatcher, and chain-smokes. Is this what happens when cheerleaders grow up?
Her first order of business, revoke Beth’s captain of the squad privileges, and that makes Beth reacts in only one way. She goes “active” and with great motivation. Beth is a tortured soul, in her teens, while trapped in a thirty year old body. She knows it, and finds a way to make herself as ugly on the outside as she is inside. Not with her looks, but with her words which are carefully wrapped in her violent ways. Characters are defined by their actions. Beth is no different. Addy meanwhile is a passive narrator to this little snow globe reality. Both girls are stone cold foxes, and Beth uses her looks to get her way and she does everything but kill anyone that crosses her path.
Once “Coach” sets Beth on a path, it is very hard for her to win this little girl back. She tries giving the squad booze and cigarettes, and treating them like adults. Beth isn’t convinced. The National Guard has also set up shop; a recruitment station within this high school paradigm, and it is only raw meat to this cheerleading coven.
Coach finds tragedy, almost like it was her destiny. Beth seems to be responsible, but so does Addy, if only after the fact. Beth’s fierce and practical psychotic manner is so difficult to look away from; she is magnetic as Addy is plotting. They prowl around their coach with the practiced charm of girls who will spend the rest of their lives torturing whichever men cross their paths. Cheerleading is considered one of the most intensely dangerous high school sports. So why would a crime novelist like Abbott take charge of it? Because it’s so much fun! Why not take a three way female dynamic and see how far it will bend, and then bend the smaller pieces when the overall dynamic breaks?
When you come to the end of this book, it will remind you of the visceral “fuck you” power of Blood on the Moon by Ellroy. It’s violence out does itself at every turn. Beth and Addy either witness or orchestrate absurd levels of self-torture on themselves or their peers. Of course we all get to see what makes a pretty cheerleader tick. We get to see, in Technicolor, everything they eat twice.
When Beth and Addy go face to face in the last few pages, it’s totally “on”. Someone has met an unnatural end, and the game of musical chairs is down to the last seat, and when Beth runs out of room, and the carpet is being yanked away, she says this to Addy, (who is about to knock Beth’s lights out) “You think I can’t win back that rabbit heart of hers? I have my two front teeth sunk in it. I have things I can tell about her, about Coach, about you-“ Under no circumstance random or otherwise do I ever want to meet Beth as a grown up, not in this lifetime or the next.
This book will beat your ass.