The second reading of the College of Saint Rose’s Visiting Writer series, “Frequency North”, now in its seventh season, presented contemporary writer Megan Abbott this past Thursday. Megan Abbott is the author of, most recently, The End of Everything, hot off her radio-appearance on WAMC’s “The Round Table”.
The event’s host, and occasionally bearded-due-to-sabbatical professor Daniel Nester, introduced Abbott first as a friend, (they attended graduate school at NYU together), then as a fellow writer by highlighting her most recent awards and her, now, five acclaimed novels. Most notably her 2007 novel Queenpin which received the Barry Award for best paperback novel and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe Award.
Photo courtesy of Pattinase
Before reading the first chapter from her new novel, The End of Everything, Abbott took about thirty minutes to preface her work and to discuss her shift from boiler-plate, historically-supported noir to a more creative, childish perspective on mysteries and crime. She introduces her narrator Lizzie, a thirteen-year-old girl stuck witnessing and investigating a Michigan suburb in the 1980s. Abbott admits to knowing the setting intimately by reliving some childhood memories that, in hindsight, resemble the delicate details established by her wordy prose and her comfortable machine-gun reading style.
Her four previous novels are soaked in traditional noir. Abbott describes the “golden-age of Hollywood” setting that she used for the first four as “a world of sin”. She cites inspiration from Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and describes a childhood friend-of-the-family as looking just like Elizabeth Taylor. Her obsession with “of the time” details establishes continuity, she says, and with such historically referenced stories, accuracy is a must. Abbott admits to using the same gun in these first four novels because of the extensive research involved and fear of introducing another gun that may not have been used at the time.
Abbott’s dissection of Middle America in the 80s is spot on, not only in a architectural way-Lizzie’s suburb community is fenceless and friendly-but also on a sociological level-the family verses family reality of the ‘burbs. The idea of “Golden” or perfect families is glorified and intensified by Abbott’s execution and artistry. She admits to having an “obsession with sound” and her performance behind the podium is one of quick and elegant pronunciation over long-winded passages and tongue-twister type phraseology.
The End of Everything proves to be a genre-merging display of noir aesthetics mixed with dynamite characterization and textbook literary theory. Abbott explains her transition by saying, “For a 13-year-old girl, life is noir.” The novel examines Lizzie’s exposé of the disappearance of her best friend, enriched by the dramatic character’s hyperbole. Abbott nails the intelligent young teen to the core and narrates portraits of youth-Americana, like a neighborhood game of “Bloody Murder” in the first chapter, for example. It’s obvious she sincerely enjoys this youthful voice and hints at her next novel by saying, “Cheerleaders are badasses!”