Review and Q&A by MysteryPeople Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Megan Abbott is a master in that most difficult to define genre, noir. She uses the genre’s trademark of people who are ruled by their passions to create characters who are both dark yet understandable (if not sympathetic).
In The End Of Everything, Abbott gives us the view point of Lizzie Hood, a thirteen year old girl growing up with her best friend, Evie, in suburban Detroit in the nineteen eighties. When Evie disappears, Lizzie is drawn into dark revelations of her friends, neighbors, and her own feelings.
By using a girl at an age where feeling comes completely but without complete understanding, Abbott creates a a story that is motivated more by emotion than plot, though it is skillfully structured. She uses the overlapping moods of noir, the suburban ennui novel, and the traditional coming of age story to create a book that cannot be easily defined by genre or even cross genre. It makes its own rules.
This a unique reading experience and one unique to the literary medium. It is at once intense and ethereal. One of my favorite crime writers, Reed Farrel Coleman, once described Megan’s books as “beautifully dark”. If you’re willing to go to some uncomfortable places, The End Of Everything will reward you with a story that will stick with you and that you’ll feel the need to revisit in years to come.
I recently interviewed Megan about her new book and some of her favorite authors. Here’s our conversation:
Q: The End of Everything is considered a bit of a departure for you since it’s set in a less bygone era and the protagonist is a thirteen year old girl. Were you looking to do something different and do you see it as being that different from your other work?
A: I wanted to try something new, maybe take some risks. And, after writing these mid-century novels, I wondered what it would be like to set a book in a world I knew and had, in fact, been shaped by—the 1980s suburban Midwest. It was intimidating. I didn’t know if I could adapt my style—which is so influenced by film noir and hardboiled fiction, that heightened style. And then I’d made what felt like a crazy decision—I gave myself a narrator who is a 13-year-old girl, which also felt daunting. But, as I wrote, I just had this realization that, well, wherever you go, there you are. Meaning, for most 13 year olds, life can be pretty “noir.” It’s all sex and terror and powerlessness and confusion. Everything feels like a risk—it’s a time of heightened everything. And that gave me my way in.
Q: You set the story in the nineteen eighties, roughly about the time you were Lizzie’s age. Did you use that period for easy access or does it provide something for the story a modern setting can’t do?
A: Originally, I tried to set it in the present, but it soon became clear that it was utterly steeped in my own specific early adolescent memories. I also think there’s something painfully specific about the early eighties, a period long before internet predators but, at the same time, the moment when there was this new hysteria, spurred in large part by the Adam Walsh kidnapping, about children being unsafe. In constant peril. I remember that feeling so vividly. Just at the age you want to start exploring the adult world, you are suddenly warned at every turn that the adult world might be looking back at you. In the suburbs in particular this felt very intense, and in many ways, disturbingly exciting.
Q: You really seem to defy genre in this book. How deliberate was that?
A: With the exception of Queenpin, which began, at least, as a deliberate homage to my favorite hardboiled novels, I don’t really think in genre terms, as a reader or writer. Stories are stories and some work and some don’t. And some have crimes in them and are called crime novels and some have crimes in them and are just called fiction. At the same time, with regard to noir, I kind of like that argument that among film noir aficionados. A lot of folks refuse to call film noir a “genre,” because it seems to cross genres (noir miseries, melodramas, westerns, sci fi). I think that’s true of noir novels too. But once you start using it that way, it gets stretched so far that it basically only means dark. And maybe that’s okay too.
Q: Are there any authors or books that you see as an influence on this book?
A: I first started writing the book years ago, before I began my first published novel, so it’s almost hard to trace the influences. But certainly Daniel Woodrell, for his fearless play with language, which so inspires me, and Joyce Carol Oates for the emotions laid bare.
Q: You’re doing part of your tour with you Gran Abbott Medicine Show blog partner, Sara Gran. To the uninitiated what are some of the things that make Sara a writer well worth reading?
A: I don’t know where to begin! Speaking of genre, here is a writer who lifts up the foundation of every “genre” she touches (horror, noir, detective novel) and turns it upside, inside out. Changes it forever. At the same time, they never feel like these are books about books, or ideas. She’s not playing with us, or with the form. Each book is utterly character driven and wholly original. It’s so hard to discern how some writers can just haunt you with their books and she just does.
Q: Who are some other authors you recommend to people who like your work?
A: I’m a big fan of Gillian Flynn (Dark Places), pitch black and utterly riveting. And my beacon in terms of moving around time periods: Ace Atkins, who can do anything, from rich historical pieces like Devil’s Garden and Infamous, to a tour de force contemporary thriller like The Ranger.