It’s all about the framing, you see, how the narrative is centred.
Devon is a fifteen-year-old gymnastics prodigy well in her way to become an Olympian. Her parents Katie and Eric have dedicated their lives to make it so. By all accounts Devon is extraordinarily gifted, her single-minded dedication is an inspiration to the other young gymnasts around her tight-knit community. All eyes are on Devon as the hopes and dreams of an entire group of people – other gymnasts, the parents, the boosters, the coach, the gym itself – depend on her success.
Then, a young man who has ties to the group gets killed on a hit and run, just before an important competition. The police gets involved, rumours start to spread and what was once believed to be a close-knit community starts to show its frayed threads.
It’s Devon’s mother Katie who holds the narrative together – as the main character and the main viewpoint narrator. And what a narrative it is. Frantic, purposeful and slightly unreliable because of how her memories are transformed in front of her (our) eyes. Because of how Devon is transformed before her (our) eyes.
It’s masterful storytelling coupled with an incredible main character. We never know what Katie will do – her unpredictability is the only reliable thing about the book.
Megan Abbott has earned a reputation of writing complex portrayals of women: most of them dealing with sex (and sexuality), identity, growing up and a myriad of other facets surrounding the female experience. I haven’t loved all of her books but I have admired and appreciated them. I loved You Will Know Me.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking about The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and how that book – even though it has three women protagonists – framed a lot of the narrative in relation to the men in it. As much as I enjoyed that ride, I was left sort of disappointed when it ended.
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott is the exact opposite. Like The Girl on the Train, You Will Know Me is a psychological thriller, it features a murder, an unreliable narrator and lot and lots of female characters. Unlike The Girl on the Train, this book never veers away from its central characters: the women. What makes them tick, what makes them shine, what makes their identity is what You Will Know Me is concerned with. Oh, and ambition. The type of ambition female characters are rarely allowed to have, the type of ambition that shapes, reshapes and informs the narrative. The storyline’s progression is a train wreck you can see but just can’t avoid as the murder investigation evolves into something altogether darker and the characters reveal just how determined they are.
By the end of this novel, you will know these characters’ deeply, unflinchingly, as the author lays them bare in front our eyes.