Review: The Turnout, by Megan Abbott
Right, here we are - the first review of the in-PhD era of the blog! I apologise in advance for the fact that these reviews will now be a bit fewer and farther in between; my reading will now mainly be taking place in transit and on commutes and it will be a bit trickier to get dedicated reviewing time, especially as I will be enforcing a no-computer weekend zone. So I have time to like, actually read the books you want reviews of.
So, having said that, let's start catching up on my backlog! This is a review of a creepy, psychological horror set in a ballet school in some unnamed but vaguely Midwestern city. It's the story of Dara and Marie Durant, who co-own and teach at the Durant School of Dance, and Dara's husband Charlie - then there's a fire in their studio, they call in a contractor who is just off and wrong and profoundly weird, and everything kind of spirals from there. It's also set against the backdrop of an annual production of The Nutcracker, and let me tell you if you've never been in a ballet studio putting on that ballet, that does tend to raise the stress levels to unmanageable levels.
I will say that this book encapsulates everything that Megan Abbott does really well, as well as the things that she is perhaps not the strongest on. Namely, she is absolutely unmatched in creating an atmosphere that sucks you in and pulls you along with its utter and complete wrongness. The entire time I was reading I could tell something terrible was being built up to, and I could tell that both Dara and Marie were too deeply involved in something that was absolutely wrong, but the sense of setting and atmosphere never got the jump on the narrative - it makes for an incredibly compelling read. I also am in awe of how Abbott manages to make her writing lyrical and crisp and lovely while writing about basically an incestuous murder mystery (kind of spoiler alert, but also not really, as I will explain why in a moment).
Excellent characters, as well - although the dialogue is a bit patchy in sections.
And that leads me to why I've docked points from this book - I loved the premise and I loved the writing and I loved the creepiness of the atmosphere and the setting, but at the end of the day, the story itself is perhaps a bit unoriginal. I could see it coming from fairly quickly into the narrative, despite the fact that Abbott tried to have her characters play coy with their memories and their flashbacks; and I think the attempt at a double-twist surprise ending was a bit rushed and could have been sprinkled into the narrative a bit more throughout the story. As it is I think she needed about 60-70 more pages to allow her story arcs a bit mores time and space to expand and contract in a way that felt more natural.
All told, though, I do highly recommend this book as a perfect autumnal read - creepy and gripping and weird, but also satisfying and very well-written.
And then maybe go discover her backlist - my favourites are Dare Me, The Fever and Give Me Your Hand.