Monday, June 10, 2013
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Lauren Beukes is an excellent writer and a very good teller of tales. She writes smart, believable dialog and characters that ring true. Her latest novel, The Shining Girls, is a tightly constructed thriller involving a very bad man named Harper Curtis who travels through time killing young women. Kirby Mazrachi survives Harper's attack and, understandably, becomes obsessed with hunting him down. To that end, she becomes a journalism intern at the Chicago Sun-Times and partners with Dan, a world-weary reporter. The dialog between Dan and Kirby is really quite wonderful. For example, here's a bit from when Kirby and Dan first meet:
“I’m much more interested in crime.”
He spins slowly in his wheelie chair to face her.
“Is that so? Well, I got real bad news for you. I cover baseball.”
“But you used to be on homicide,” the girl insists.
“Yeah, like I used to be able to smoke and drink and eat bacon and not have a fucking stent in my chest. All a direct result of working the homicide beat. You should forget about it. It’s no place for a nice wannabe hardcore punk girl like you.”
“They don’t offer internship positions on homicide.”
“For a very good reason. Can you imagine you kids running around a crime scene? Christ!”
Kirby spends much more of her time trying to find links between murders than covering sports. Dan provides both support and skepticism:
“Drugs. He wasn’t on drugs. Or not any I’m familiar with.”
“Have you met my mom? You would have taken drugs too. Although I was never terribly good at it.”
“It doesn’t work, what you’re doing, Deflecting with humor. Just tells me that there’s something you need to deflect from.”
“Years on the homicide beat had made him a keen-eyed observer of humanity, a philosopher of life,” she intones in a movie-trailer voice, two octaves down.
“Still doing it,” says Dan. His cheeks are hot. She gets to him in a way that’s infuriating.
Beukes seems to have taken the writer's phrase "kill your darlings" to heart because she paints lovely word portraits of each of Harper's victims before he swoops in kills them very violently. This is not a book for the squeamish.
The Shining Girls is brilliantly constructed with chapters flitting though time and shifting in focus from Harper to Kirby or Dan or any of Harper's many victims. The many threads loop and intersect and ultimately tie-back in perfect arcs and bows, wrapping the tale like a perfect gift.
I am a big fan of Lauren Beukes's work. I thought her first novel, Moxyland, was brilliant and I absolutely loved her second novel, Zoo City. But while I loved both the premise of The Shining Girls and find no flaw in the execution of the book, I can't say that I loved the book. It just didn't click with me. Harper was evil and Kirby and Dan were both likable characters, but I got no sense of being engaged in a big struggle that I cared about. It felt more like doing a really clever crossword puzzle.
Not all books connect with all readers and ultimately The Shining Girls didn't shine for me. I felt the story was well worth the price of admission, but this isn't a book that I'll rave about to my friends or remember for years to come.