Friday, March 04, 2016

Reading Too Much Into It

I'm lucky enough to have an advance reading copy of Megan Abbott's next book, YOU WILL KNOW ME. I see that a LeRoy Neiman tiger poster appears in it. Megan told me about that poster, which is why it also coincidentally appears in MY next book, MOVIE STARS, in which, as I now see thanks to Megan, I consistently misspell LeRoy Neiman's name with a small "r." But the important thing is that the LeRoy Neiman tiger poster is literature's next big trend. I also came across a subtle allusion to Brian Keith's "Uncle Bill" (pictured) from the TV show FAMILY AFFAIR... a touchstone that is pure Megan, as I know from many a conversation. Last night I was trying to piece together what makes something a "Megan Abbott" novel, other than the fact that Megan Abbott wrote it. Is it that you feel you're on sure footing and then things start to slip away from under you? Characters' nightmares seem truer than their daily lives. I'm grasping here. I know that Megan likes David Lynch, and often cites him as an influence, but it's not precisely Lynchian. Lynch can show you a ceiling fan and fill you with dread. Megan achieves something of the same effect with words. Ordinary things aren't ordinary for her. Uneasiness, I decided. That's what you feel. Megan Abbott is our great author of unease. I already had that phrase in my mind - "our great author of unease" - when I came on this sentence in YOU WILL KNOW ME: "It was upsetting, like the seam of something had been torn, ever so slightly." Yes, it's the "ever so slightly" that marks this perception as Megan's, maybe, and separates her from everyone else. Also, the evocative vagueness of "the seam of something." It's not that Megan "peels back layers" the way people say David Lynch does... it's that the world itself is already hallucinatory and gothic. There's no need to peel back any layers! Megan and I discuss this, or something related to this, in an old interview I hope you will "click" on: see pp. 14-16 (MEGAN: "It’s like the thing that students sometimes say: 'You’re reading too much into it.' And of course that’s what students always say when they’re frightened about what they’re reading"). I'm not saying Megan Abbott and Emily Brontë share a worldview, necessarily, but there's a scene in WUTHERING HEIGHTS that I wrote about for the Rumpus once, "when the housekeeper goes back to visit a sweet little boy she used to take care of, and in the short intervening time something has happened to him. He throws a stone at her head and curses. She tempts him with an orange: '"Who has taught you those fine words, my barn," I inquired. "The curate?" "Damn the curate, and thee! Give me that," he replied. "Tell us where you got your lessons, and you shall have it," said I. "Who’s your master?" "Devil daddy," was his answer.'" Very uneasy, queasy, skating around the edge of normal life. Hmm, maybe it's the orange that seems like a Megan Abbott touch, an otherworldly fruit or shining spot on those bleak moors. In conclusion, there's a significant doodle in YOU WILL KNOW ME that looks "like a cartoon owl." So I can put YOU WILL KNOW ME on my stupid list of all the books I read with owls in them, trying to pin it down and categorize it with my sickening brand of whimsy. Yes, yes, that's it, Pendarvis, laugh your unease away. IF YOU CAN! The last book I read featuring a "cartoon owl" was by Ace Atkins, a close friend of Megan's and mine. Surely this is an area for further investigation, he quipped, narrowly avoiding the abyss.