Today and I am very happy, excited and proud to welcome American author Megan Abbott to Books & Reviews. After reviewing her upcoming novel You Will Know Me (out next June), I contacted Megan to talk about her middle-class American girls signature narrative, feminism, and many other topics that I thought would be interesting for those of us who do feminism, crime fiction and female main characters. Welcome to Books & Reviews Megan, and thank you for everything:
- You have inscribed the female teenage experience in contemporary crime fiction inaugurating a new crime fiction subgenre. Why and when did you decide to start writing about female teenagers in such a dark – and interesting – way?
I think the specifics and ambiguities of female adolescence are so rich and yet still pretty underexplored, so that’s a big enticement. But it’s the female experience more generally, particularly its darker corners, that I most want to push my way into. And so much about womanhood is laid bare during one’s teen years. No one’s figured out yet how to hide the pangs and sorrows of that age, and its intensity is great stuff for books. It’s the age when you become yourself, so I think we never stop going back there as women, trying to figure it out.
- What/Who was the inspiration for your latest novel, You Will Know Me?
I’ve always been interested in families of prodigies and what it’s like, in particular, to be the parent of a prodigy. Then, four years ago, I saw this footage during the London Olympics of the parents of American gymnast Aly Raisman. They were watching their daughter’s floor routine and were so invested in it, so connected to her. The footage went viral and the response to it was so complicated. Some people found it funny, others found it problematic, troubling. I think we all struggle with how invested parents should be in their children’s development and in case of exceptionally talented children, all that is thrown into high relief. It seemed a perfect world to explore. How does that kind of focus affect a marriage, for instance? Sibling relationships? And families in general fascinate me—the place of the greatest darkness and the greatest light.
- The female body plays a key role in most of your novels: in The Fever the main characters’ bodies made them vulnerable to an epidemic, in You Will Know Me, Devon’s body is a tool, a source of both strength and anxieties. What did you have in mind for both novels (taking into account the long tradition of female bodies as passive entities in crime fiction)?
I can’t say I have a plan or intent, but it’s certainly on my mind a lot. It’s so hard, in this culture, for a woman’s body to feel fully her own. The female body is something to be looked at, shaped, molded, concealed, sexualized, etc. In my books I’m really interested in how women shape or mold themselves. Seizing control of this out-of-control thing, or this thing out of her control. And with athletes, it’s so central. Their body is their weapon, their power.
- All your novels feature strong female characters. They are fighters, and although they may be vulnerable, they can be considered role models for Young Adult readers (and adult readers like myself as well!). Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I definitely consider myself a feminist. But I don’t write with any kind of agenda. That can be lethal to fiction, I think. And I avoid ever thinking in terms of role models when I write. My goal is to make all my characters real, complicated, flawed, but I do think it’s particularly important to have female characters of all ages who are full of contradictions, as we all are. And I love to explore those impulses and drives—aggression, ambition, subversive desire—that have, historically, been suppressed in women.
- Last, but not least, any literary crime fiction recommendations for readers looking for a strong and complex female character? [They can be from any time you want, not necessarily published this year]
Yes! Laura Lippman’s novels, most recently After I’m Gone and the forthcoming Wilde Lake. Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger. Alison Gaylin’s dark Hollywood tale, What Remains of Me. Alex Marwood’s The Darkest Secret.
Megan Abbott is the author of seven novels, several short stories, and the winner of the Edgar Award for Outstanding fiction. She also writes for the Los Angeles Review of Books , and has her own blog. Born in Detroit, she graduated from the University of Michigan and went to earn a PhD in American literature at the University of New York and she has written about the representation of masculinity in hard-boiled crime fiction and film noir.