Author of the Month

Name: Megan Abbott

First Novel:

Most Recent Book: The Turnout

'...an author who simply gets better with each book she writes.'

Synopsis:
After the sudden death of their parents, the Durant sisters, Dara and Marie, inherit a ballet school and take over running it with Dara's husband Charlie. The sisters' connection is intense, forged by a glamorous but troubled family history.

But after they hire Derek, a charismatic, possibly shady contractor to renovate the studio, Marie throws herself into an intense affair with him that threatens their tight bonds and brings forward family secrets until an act of violence overturns everything.

Review:
With her usual skill, Abbott gradually reveals how the lives of these three people – Dara, Charlie and Marie – became so entwined. These are damaged souls. As children, their young lives were ruled by the girls’ ferocious mother and alcoholic father. Now they are adults, all three are trying to find their own way to escape their past. Marie does this by throwing herself – recklessly and with a single-minded obsession – into her affair. Dara exists by maintaining a rigid control on the elements of her life she’s able to control, including her marriage. And Charlie? Dara isn’t sure, anymore, she knows what her husband thinks about anything.

This stifling, claustrophobic novel introduces us to the dark side of the beautiful art of ballet. Through the world of a provincial ballet school, we see the blistered feet, the swollen limbs and the starvation that dancers endure.

As with all Megan Abbott novels, ‘The Turnout’ is an unflinching exploration of the darker side of female psychology. It is a novel written by an author who simply gets better with each book she writes. I adored it.

Reviewed by: S.B.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) I’m a huge fan of your work and loved ‘The Turnout’. Once again, you’ve written about an intense, toxic relationship between two women. This seems to be a topic you come back to again and again in your writing. What is it about female friendships and rivalries that you find so compelling?
Thank you so much! I suppose because it’s so elemental. All books are in some way about relationships and power. But relationships among women were, for so long, restricted in literature to the surface of things. Or to cartoon versions - you know, “catfights” and “mean girls.” But most of our lives are spent in between, in the messiness of our relationships, in the intricate ways our friendships change and deepen. Though I suppose I don’t consider Dara and Marie’s relationship in ‘The Turnout’ to be toxic precisely. They raised each other, found strength in each other. When we meet them, there are a pivot point, a hard one, but ultimately they do find their way through, you know?
2) You clearly have a detailed knowledge of ballet. Does this come from research, your own experiences or a combination of both?
Research. (My two years of childhood ballet were a resounding failure.) And I love the research part of writing. I consumed every ballet memoir, biography, history I could, and watched countless hours of performances, rehearsals, etc. And, of course, I went to the ballet (including The Nutcracker, of course). And then I worked with a former ballet dancer to be sure I got everything right. I’m sure there are errors, but the key for me, always, with the worlds I try to evoke is to make it come alive for the reader. I hope I did!
3) Another theme you explore a lot in your writing is the idea of a woman wanting something – often so desperately they will risk everything for it. What is it about this idea that you’re so drawn to?
Again, I guess because it’s so elemental. All crime stories are about wanting something badly. All noir is. We all understand the feeling and we all ponder the risk at one time or another. And one of the supreme pleasures in reading literature is that we get to vicariously experience what it would be like if we did take those risks. All from the comfort of our reading chair.
4) You’ve been described as the queen of contemporary American noir. What were the novels and films that influenced you when you were growing up?
The novels of Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Chester Himes, Dorothy B. Hughes, James Ellroy, Patricia Highsmith—all enormous influences. And countless movies—from ‘In a Lonely Place’ and ‘Laura’ to ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ and ‘Mildred Pierce’. And both the novel and movie of Horace McCoy’s ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ The great noir with strong, complicated women at the center. I wanted to write my way into all those worlds.
5) You worked on the TV series, ‘The Deuce’ and, more recently, were involved in the Netflix adaptation of your wonderful novel, ‘Dare Me’. How different is the experience of writing for the screen and what were the particular challenges of adapting your own work?
Yes, I adapted ‘Dare Me’ myself and served as co-creator and co-showrunner on the series. (Netflix was our international partner, but the series was actually produced through NBC Universal here in the U.S.). I’d never taken on something that large and consuming. Nearly seven years in development, before we got the greenlight! But making the show was utterly thrilling, and also surreal. When you sit down to write a novel, you never imagine you’ll later get to bring it to actual vivid life with an entire talented cast and crew bringing their own gifts to it. The challenges were many—it’s an endurance test on every level, foremost being on set 14 hours a day or more for months on end. And a surprising amount of the job of showrunner is constantly asking for more production money! But it’s all well worth it.
6) With your experience as a writer, what advice would you give to anyone attempting their first novel?
Read widely and voraciously. And write, write, write. Write badly, messily, confusedly, then revise, reshape, etc. The crippling desire to get it right often stops us from writing at all. But novels are really made in the revision and everyone’s first drafts are terrible. That’s what I remind myself of every time!
7) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a greater fan. That’s why I write ‘em! This is tough, and probably changes every day, but today I’d say:

The Long Goodbye - Raymond Chandler

Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins