Don’t be fooled by the cover, Megan Abbott’s book is a true powerhouse, flitting between two vivid timelines. Go read it.
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, which is just sound advice, generally. And it’s exceptionally good advice here, as this book’s content, style and the author’s keen literary eye, are far superior to whatever programmer of a thriller the title and cover art suggests.
Author Megan Abbott’s ability to find horror in the mundane has served her well. Her new work combines a keen insight into the lives of high school girls with medical drama, as well as the generic tropes of the psychological thriller. The story centres around two principal characters: one, Kit, whose narrative alternates between her teenage years growing up poor in high school with dreams of making a career in scientific research; the same woman ten years later – living the dream, as it were. But at the same time we have Dianne, Kit’s high school bestie who confided a bit much in Kit back in the day and now holds her knowledge over Kit’s head like the proverbial sword of Damacles.
The “Then” sections are written with insight and vigour; Abbott knows well enough to show in detail the class codes that prejudice them in the lower echelons from realising their potential – Kit is spending a lot of her time working in a greasy spoon to supplement her mother’s income. Diane has things more together, but it wouldn’t be a thriller without some of the glue coming undone, and she’s got…some baggage. Shattered glass on the book’s cover? It ain’t a metaphor.
The “Now” sections are a distinct beast of their own. There is a dynamic – unique, to say the least – between Abbott’s central characters and their mentor-boss which registers as dysfunctional at a pinch. And that whole “male gaze” thing is in absentia here – the McGuffin of the narrative is the research done into PMDD – a kind of PMS on steroids (…with deadly results!). The condition-as-metaphor in the narrative is one which allows us to put a name to the ongoing struggle most – if not all – women seem to face among stereotypes and assumptions levelled against them based solely on hormones. Not for nothing, but there’s no question that Give Me Your Hand passes the Bechdel test.
Megan Abbott, credited with several books as well as work on the HBO drama The Deuce, knows her way around the inner workings of the female mind. Her depictions of the narrative deaths are confronting and powerful throughout, and there is within the piece a unique perspective rarely found in books of this nature.