We had no beef with Megan Abbott back when she was plugging away at hard-nosed noir (Bury Me Deep) or sensuous coming-of-age-ness (The End of Everything). But then she had to go suck all the oxygen out of the publishing universe with Dare Me, an official Big Book that found Shakespearean drama in the world of high-school cheerleading. Overnight, agents and editors around the globe began making their authors miserable: “Could you maybe set your epic postwar immigrant saga in the world of cheerleading?” “Could you somehow situate your philosophical text of experimental mathematics within the world of cheerleading?”
It was hell, Abbott. Hell. Time to take that toe-touch double-jump left-hurdler herkie into oblivion!
Just who do you think you are?
A Midwestern gal who spent far too much of her childhood reading true crime, watching 1930s gangster movies and dreaming of moving to New York City. I imagined it just like Manhattan and I would live with Woody Allen, eating Chinese food and watching W.C. Fields movies on the late show.
I did move here, after college. Lacking Mariel Heminway’s bone structure, I had to make do with what I had. So, many years later, I’m a Midwestern expat, living in Queens and writing novels.
Where do you get off?
I’m just barely hanging on, I tell you. But I love books, desperately. I want to live in them. For all of us who were readers from a young age, we learn how to exist in the world thanks to books. They help us understand life, the murkiness of the heart. We feel less strange because of them, less alone. So the more I get to sneak into that world, the better.
Right now, it feels like complicated heroines are having their moment—in fiction, film, TV, music. Troubled women, bad girls. Driven, unpredictable, complex. Roxane Gay wrote this piece for The Millions about how books in 2012 were filled with women or girls finally allowed to be “dark and dangerous.” There’s, of course, a long history of damaged heroines in fiction (where would the Gothic novel be without it?), but it does feel like there’s something happening now that hasn’t happened in some time, or at least hasn’t happened so brazenly. All the sudden we have Gone Girl and Homeland and Hunger Games and Enlightened. The unconscious became conscious. Or we suddenly all admitted that we secretly loved female characters whom, a few years ago, we might have called unlikable, unrelatable. Scary. Now we can call them strong (and sometimes still scary).
What is your problem, man?
David Lynch doesn’t make enough movies fast, Donna Tartt’s new book doesn’t come out until the fall, Buffy is no longer saving the world, and I can’t seem to stop getting into fights about the brilliance of Brian DePalma movies.
Haven’t you done enough?
Not until I write that book on sexual politics and the art and mysticism of Ke$ha. I really want to write that book. I might not stop with Ke$ha, but she’s a start.