Megan Abbott is the queen of small-town suffocation. Her novels The End of Everything and Dare Me capture the dangerous boredom of teenage girls and the ramifications of suppressed teenage sexuality; and her new novel – out next year, set to be called The Fever – won’t disappoint her fans.
22/07/2012 by Stacey Bartlett
The Queen of teens Megan Abbott on her new The Fever, based on the mysterious case of 18 twitching teenage girls in a New York suburb
The Fever is based on the real cases of 18 girls in the New York suburb of Le Roy, who one-by-one developed violent, Tourette’s-like tics which resulted in community uproar, numerous blood tests, MRI scans, an environmental investigation by the New York health board and widespread national media coverage. Parents thought there was something in the water or under the school playing fields. The girls – most of them cheerleaders – and their mothers appeared on The Today Show; one of them was so overcome by her new condition she could only swing her arms uncontrollably and cry out. Abbott said the girls put videos of their tics on Youtube: “other girls saw it, so the question was whether a copycat syndrome had started to develop.
“It was an interesting way to think about the parental sense of hazard we have over our kids today because the world seems to be changing so fast, and how do we protect them? Especially girls – they’re becoming women and there’s sexual anxiety and their bodies are out of their control, so it’s based on that case and the ramifications. Ultimately it’s mostly about family – damaged families trying to hold themselves together in the face of something out of your control.”
Tight-knit, insular communities are Abbott’s bread and butter. Her Virgin Suicides-esque tales of boredom, desire, intense friendships and toxic home lives are – interestingly, Abbot said – not written for teenagers, despite her books accurately bottling, labelling and selling adolescence.
“I grew up in the suburbs and it felt very insular, and though it really wasn’t that small you had the sense that there were all these secrets that you sort of had these glimmers of. It was small enough that you know something was going on but you never knew what, as opposed to a big city where everybody can hide their secrets, or a very remote area where you’d never even know. There’s something about that in-between space where you know what’s going on in that house down the street.”
Inner demons are Abbott’s “abiding fixation”, as well as voyeurism and “tight, hot-house atmospheres…I guess I’ve always been influenced by Freudian psychology and the notion that what’s most frightening is when you see someone else do something that you really want to do but can’t admit to.”
Today is the “golden age of female crime authors,” Abbott said warmly, name-checking Tana French and fellow Harrogate attendee Gillian Flynn .“They’re so pitch black,” she said, “and I’ve been so delighted to see people responding to them.”
Dare Me is out now, published by Picador.