DARE ME (2012/2019)

It’s no secret that Megan Abbott is my favorite living author. QUEENPIN was absolutely foundational for me in the current phase of my life. She completely hones in on the physicality, wants and needs of folks, in many expert ways.

With her novel DARE ME, she focuses on cheerleading and bodily control and power.

Granted, I’ve never been a cheerleader, much less a teenage girl, but goddamn — as someone who was a former amateur gymnast — I love to throw myself around and be thrown around. It is absolutely thrilling. My body just wants hands on them, which kind of sucks and has managed to get me into more trouble than I’d like. However, I can’t help it, and there’s power and command that comes with that physicality, and Abbott absolutely nails that facet with DARE ME.

The show she helmed is dreamier and more heightened than even I expected from the source material, but it is glorious however sadly short-lived. It was exquisitely drawn for multiple seasons, but barely survived for one, but what a season.

“In the end, I couldn’t stop it.”


The moment I realized Dorothy L. Sayers’ THE NINE TAILORS was a special sort of murder mystery novel was when I encountered one passage and thought: “Wow, she’s really leaning hard on the details of this old church’s bells.” Ten pages later: “Cripes, I never knew that I wanted to know this much about bell-ringing!”

Sayers is best-known for her murder mysteries, specifically her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, featuring a rich, compassionate, gregarious but astute man who often finds himself surrounded by death. GAUDY NIGHT (the tenth Wimsey story, published in 1935, one a year after THE NINE TAILORS) is perhaps her best-known, but sadly, nowadays unless you’re attending an Edgar Awards afterparty, you’re probably unlikely to hear her name or accidentally stumble over a visual adaptation of any of her novels.

This is a shame — and something The Dorothy L. Sayers Society is trying to rectify — because, as THE NINE TAILORS exemplifies, she’s exceptional at weaving a engaging world, one dense with intriguing and idiosyncratic individuals, where actions are richly detailed, and each work is ornately penned to soothe even the most high-minded snob. In her hands, the murder contained in THE NINE TAILORS almost fades away as we’re drawn into this small town and its denizens.

In other words: THE NINE TAILORS is the complete package. It’s thrilling, it has depth, it goes unfathomably deep into the world of bell-ringing in ways that manage to be highly entertaining, and it sticks the landing in an amazingly satisfying way. It’s an absolute classic, one that should certainly not be overlooked by any mystery fan.

Read here: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.512291


I’m at the point in my life where I’m filling in the gaps of my favorite writers over the years, nabbing books of say, James M. Cain or, in this case, Daphne du Maurier, where — while staring at a barely read, two-bit book in second-hand bookstore — I mutter to myself: ‘Why don’t I have a copy of this already?’

Such was my case with du Maurier’s THE PARASITES, which frankly, is overdue for a proper film adaptation, as it’s a fantastic distillation of her approach towards inherited talent and du Maurier’s own festering cynicism towards the world.

THE PARASITES focuses on a piecemeal family: the father is a legendary singer, while the mother is an acclaimed solo dancer, and the two create heavenly works together. (It’s worth noting that these two somewhat mirror du Maurier’s parents, as her father was well-known actor/theatre producer Sir Gerald du Maurier and her mother was the acclaimed stage actress Muriel Beaumont.) Between the two, they have three siblings, the eldest being Maria, who grows into a mercurial actress, the result of a coupling between Pappy and an unnamed Vietnamese stage performer, who died shortly after birthing Maria; Niall, the product of Mama and a pianist who may or may not have died of tuberculosis; and Celia, the child of Pappy and Mama.

Maria is married to Charles, the heir to a Lord, who — at the opening of the novel — calls the three Delaney siblings out as ‘parasites’. The three spend the rest of the day mulling over exactly what he meant by it, diving deep into their past to investigate how they may have become such creatures. Maria reflects on her cavalier attitude towards her own offspring and her husband; Niall mulls over his uncommon attachment to Maria and his difficulties and dissonance with the tunes that lilt through his head; finally, Celia speculates about a world where she didn’t spend so much of her life living to serve others, and what may have happened if she’d indulge her illustration talents.

Du Maurier spends the bulk of the novel peeling away the familial onion layers, revealing the fact that this isn’t an ensemble character drama, but is in fact a murder mystery of sorts: who (spiritually) killed Charles? What was the motive? Who had the means to induce the final blow? It’s a novel that consists of processing, of personal scrutiny, of evasion and ultimately acceptance.

While it’s one of the least sensational novels of hers, THE PARASITES feels icily personal; the siblings are constantly skirting and circling around their issues in the way an overly invested author flinches as they see themselves on their page, mining their strife for drama, but not quite willing to strike the major veins. Given that that it’s a work that is primarily spent on a specific sort of self-reflection, that feels right and welcome and fitting, but those hoping for a neatly satisfying ending may be disappointed.


TRUCK (1971)

Katherine Dunn is best know for her exceptional misfit novel GEEK LOVE or, if you’re a fan of the sweet science, you may be familiar with her boxing observations such as ONE RING CIRCUS. However, well before she was writing about pugilists or carny folks, she penned two novels that focused on outsiders living in their head: ATTIC (1970) and, this recommendation, TRUCK (1971).

That both ATTIC and TRUCK were penned well over fifteen years prior to GEEK LOVE might explain why both of them are relatively unknown, even to fans of Dunn, but they’re no less gripping. However, as you might expect given the years that passed between them and GEEK LOVE, stylistically they are radically different, opting for more of a stream-of-consciousness tact that can occasionally feel like Dunn is being deliberately opaque, but this approach works to properly convey the protagonist’s mindset.

The premise of TRUCK is rather simple: Dutch (legally known as Jean Gillis) is an adolescent girl kicking against the confines of her small town, school and her well-meaning family, when she starts hanging out with high school senior Heydorf, a distant-but-philosophizing sort who plans to head to Los Angeles and commit small crimes. He encourages Dutch to meet him out there, and she embarks on a winding bus trip from Oregon to Los Angeles to leave her old life behind.

TRUCK excels at channeling Dutch’s scattershot, wide-eyed and trepidatious point-of-view. Her internal monologues often feel frantic, fragmented, scattered and difficult to follow, but they never feel anything less than authentic.

Dutch’s bus trip is especially striking. Dunn perfectly encapsulates the wide variety of emotions of a youth taking an extended, unsanctioned solo bus trip, ranging from fear of being found out as the bus pulls out of the station, to the wonder and relief of being on the road, to the awkward displeasure of dealing with nearby drunk companions and their life stories. Dutch’s running thoughts tonally shift throughout the twenty-pages, reflecting her ways of mentally coping as she drifts farther from home, coming to terms with the reality of shaping a new life in a strange land.

TRUCK is a remarkable portrait of a singular transitory time in a youth’s life, one of heightened intensity where aspiration, disillusion, anticipation, dissolution, spiritual questioning and fulfillment and even more, deluge one’s self, leaving one fundamentally changed and bracing for the world in front of them.



I love adaptations. Part of it’s the writer in me, as I love to scrutinize how a work is transformed to fit a different medium. However, truthfully, most of it boils down to the fact that, as a youth, my parents wouldn’t allow me to watch anything racy or violent or swear-laden so instead I simply read the novel adaptation of a PG-13 or R-rated film instead which, as you might suspect, played fast-and-loose and often were far more taboo than the source material.

That said, a lot of modern adaptations disappoint me. (To be clear, we’re mostly talking about comic/novel to film/tv adaptations, because the heyday of film-to-novel adaptations has long passed.) They often hew too closely and lose their luster, or go wildly off-the-rails. Rarely is there an in-between.

I first watched MADE FOR LOVE and loved it and immediately ordered Alissa Nutting’s 2017 novel of the same name, curious as to how they’d handle the interiority of runaway wife Hazel Green. However, given how thrilling plotted and substantial the series was I figured they mostly followed the novel’s template and goosed a few scenes to play better visually.

That is not what they did. Instead, showrunner Christina Lee (SEARCH PARTY) enlisted Alissa Nutting (who also wrote the controversial novel TAMPA) to join the writers room and run with the core concept of Nutting’s novel: a desperately unhappy wife Hazel Green decides to leave her brilliant-but-psychopathic billionaire tech mogul Byron Gogol upon being told of his plan to ‘merge their minds together’ via a chip implant in her head. Hazel breaks free of his isolated work compound, leaving all of her belonging and any money behind, so she has no option but to crash at her widower father’s trailer home. Shortly after being introduced to her father’s partner — a sex doll named Diane — she realizes that Byron had already implanted the chip in her head.

So far, the source material mostly mirrors the adaptation, however, this is where it slowly starts diverging. Since I’m comparing and contrasting the two — I have yet to watch MADE FOR LOVE season two, so this will only refer to the first season — I’ll be noting specific plot points and character traits for both the series and novel, so if you want to go in blind, best circle back to this later. If you just want to know if it’s worth reading the book, regardless of whether you did or did not watch the show, I implore you to do so.

The first sign that the show is its own creature is that: in the novel, her father has to use a Rascal mobility device to get around, whereas in the show he’s very mobile.

The second sign is how the book handles Liver, who on the show is a handsome twenty-something working at a local bar, brewing beer at night, outside, shirtless, arms covered in foam up to his elbows. In the novel, he’s has forty years on Hazel, and they quickly fall into a very friendly, physical relationship, partially due to the fact that they’re cranks.

The third sign was that I kept waiting for Alissa to add a possibly more sympathetic side to Byron, even if it feels like he was pretending to do so — akin to the show. However, he remains a monster all the way through.

Similarly, Hazel is fleshed out a bit more and comes across as smarter and more aware than she is on the show, but also has an array additional issues that lead to her living life as a fuck-up.

There are also some minor changes with how Byron can access Hazel’s experiences. Unlike the show, where he has a direct live feed 24/7, in the novel he downloads them once every 24 hours, which significantly alters the tension dynamic.

Most importantly, while dolphins factor into the novel, they do so in a wildly different manner, and feature a con-man Jasper who hooks women into his orbit, bleeds them dry and moves to another town. At first it feels completely unnecessary, but Alissa manages to weave it all together in a smart manner. I do wonder if they may touch upon that in the second season (which I have yet to watch).

Lastly, the endings of each could not differ any more, but both are quite satisfying within the context of each work. (I’d argue the end of the novel would work as the end of the first season, but not vice versa.)

While the show is an amusing thrill ride that happens to examine human desire, tech and surveillance culture, and more, the novel touches on all of that but is mostly concerned with Hazel and Jasper’s personal journeys and growth, of reckoning with guilt and poor decisions, all while trying to figure out what they want their lives to look like. Both are vastly different and both have a lot that they want to say, and both are worth your time.


(This was originally penned July 6th, 2021 for a platform other than this website.)

A writer friend recommended Robert M. Eversz’s KILLING PAPARAZZI to me, knowing I have a taste for noir and detective fiction, especially if it’s lurid and moves like a freight train, and KILLING PARAZZI does not disappoint. It’s my favorite neo-noir I’ve read since Megan Abbott’s QUEENPIN — my favorite neo-noir novel ever — one that I found to be a revelation, but that’s a story for another time.

First things first: my friend did not note that this was the second novel in Eversz’s NINA ZERO series, so it took a bit before I could really get a bead on exactly what the protagonist had done to be incarcerated. The events of the first novel are doled out in a trickle, but you eventually get the whole picture (and the following paragraph will help you along without major spoilers, just in case).

KILLING PAPARAZZI features Nina Zero — née Mary Alice Baker — as she’s getting out of prison in the early aughts for killing several men and accidentally blowing up part of LAX. One of the first things she does upon parole? A green card wedding to an unknown Englishman named Gabe. They have a fun night in Vegas, but she realizes she could fall for him and also realizes he could fall for her, so she darts back to her home city, Los Angeles, buys a used Cadillac and a camera, and starts using her streetsmarts to work the paparazzi beat.

A week later, she happens upon the scene of her husband’s murder, floating in LA’s finest drinking water, and finds herself wanting revenge.

It’s pulpy; it’s penned with a clipped terseness that I can’t help but adore; it traffics in L.A. lore; Nina’s an angry misfit, smart, funny, resourceful, and down for more than you might initially expect. It’s absolute catnip for me, and an enthralling read.


Sarah Waters often traffics in thrilling historical lesbian romances, which is obvious by the names of her earlier novels, such as TIPPING THE VELVET (1998) and FINGERSMITH (2002).

THE NIGHT WATCH (2006) is a bit of a detour, as it’s far more Dickensian — in spirit, not time as it takes place in various times before, during, and after World War Two in London — and far more of an ensemble, which features not only a lesbian couple, but also a straight couple, and one jailed man whose sexuality is slightly more complex. (There are additional supporting characters, but those are the major players.)

If that description sounds maddeningly vague, it’s by intent. THE NIGHT WATCH is incredibly restrained with doling out character particulars, and jumps around in years to intentionally provoke intrigue and drama, but also serves to contrast how these characters have coped with wartime and recovery.

In that sense, it feels remarkably relevant in this age of COVID-19, as you read how the characters shelter-in-place, experience how they put themselves at risk by venturing out into the world, tales of first responders, and the like. More than anything, it’s about living with an invisible threat while also living a hidden life, and yes, it’s just as loaded as it sounds.

While all of the characters are richly drawn, I can’t help but wish that Waters had dialed back the scope a bit, as I found myself drawn to the queer relationships lived by Helen, Kay, and Julia, as opposed to the straight and male romances lived through Viv, Reggie, and Duncan, all of which felt like their relationships were hitting the same notes, but with less-satisfying results.

Regardless, Waters is an expert at balancing literary storytelling while also penning extraordinary steamy content, and it’s worth reading THE NIGHT WATCH solely for the more tantalizing passages and the relationship dynamics that she details.


In the ‘before-times’, one of the last novels I read from start-to-finish in a bar was Donna Tartt’s THE GOLDFINCH. It was the first novel of hers I’d read — practice for a film I’d never bother watching — and the bartender/manager/owner of said bar asked me: ‘Have you read THE SECRET HISTORY?’, which I vaguely knew as Tartt’s first novel. I responded that I had not. He solely replied: ‘You should read it,’ then walked away with an aloofness which stunned me, one that I would have found offensive if it weren’t for a specific lilt in his voice.

I had really, sincerely, stupidly, hoped that I’d be able to read it at his bar — it’s Burke’s Public House; if you’re ever in the Chicago Uptown area, they are still open, and they have great burgers — but no. COVID-19 intervened, obviously. Instead, I idly read the bulk of it at a generic suburban resort, far away from home, in a starchy, itchy bed.

THE SECRET HISTORY is a astonishingly beloved novel, one of found families, and it revels in nuanced academia of the Ancient Greek sort but, at the heart of it, it’s a Hitchcock-ian tale of power dynamics while also being a cautionary story about when everything goes sour in the most platonic of relationships, when one trusts too much in others without fully realizing the implications of doing so.

The details of THE SECRET HISTORY are rather difficult to discuss, precisely because the novel is the slowest of slow-burns, luxuriating in setting and character before finally diving into the details of its inciting incident, but I’ll summarize it as so: Richard, an indecisive, lower-middle-class Californian dude from Plano* changes majors several times before moving to a very liberal, fictitious, Vermont college in a made-up town, and throws his all into a group of well-off Classics intellectuals: Henry, the fountainhead of the group, brilliant but has a specific disassociation from humanity; Bunny, a dyslexic but charismatic individual that comes from privilege but isn’t given a cent and relies on his charm to live; Charles and Camilla, lithe fraternal twins who live together; Frances, mostly queer and moneyed; and Julian, the Ancient Greek professor who doesn’t need to teach to pay the bills, allowing him to be extraordinarily selective about the students he enlists, the students of whom murder Bunny.

THE SECRET HISTORY also scrutinizes Vermont, where I grew up, but it is firmly positioned in Central Vermont and, despite the fact that you can drive vertically through the state in under four hours — less than two horizontally — Vermont is surprisingly fragmented. There’s Northern Vermont which was — when I lived there, many moons ago — very upper-middle-class in a basic way. Families of engineers and the like. Southern Vermont I mostly knew as Bennington, specifically Bennington College, which isn’t nearly as illustrious now, but in its heyday it was all David Mamet and Shirley Jackson (who, admittedly, didn’t attend or teach there, but her husband did, and her spirit still looms large, and directly inspired THE SECRET HISTORY via her novel HANGSAMAN — about a woman finding herself at a liberal college — and perhaps her under-published short story THE MISSING GIRL).

Central Vermont though, well, there’s not much there apart from struggling farming boroughs, and the well-meaning capital of the state, Montpelier. It’s a mess; it’s always been that way, at least to me.

Tartt is a Southern American — from Mississipi — but attended Bennington College, along with other novelists like Bret Easton Ellis (of whom she partially dedicated this novel to). However, THE SECRET HISTORY is placed in Central Vermont, a nebulous place out-of-time that houses this group of (mostly) over-privileged Classics scholars who feel similarly displaced.

Consequently, THE SECRET HISTORY is a small-scale tale told in an epic way, and I’m gobsmacked that it’s never been adapted into a film, as in many ways, it suits that medium more than a novel. Conversely, Tartt’s latest, THE GOLDFINCH, which was adapted into a film, feels ill-suited to cinema, due to its severe interiority and reliance on static imagery, as opposed to HISTORY’s language and cadence and bold personalities.

(For more info on why a film adaptation of THE SECRET HISTORY stalled, see: https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a28954524/donna-tartt-secret-history-movie/ )


CONTENT WARNING: Eating disorders.

I previously recommended the TV adaptation of DIETLAND back in January which I described as a ‘woman-focused FIGHT CLUB’. While I last watched the show when it first aired in 2018, revisiting the pilot inspired me to check out the source material, Sarai Walker’s novel of the same name.

Upon reading it, I was struck at how close Marti Noxon’s adaptation hewed to the source material, while still fleshing Plum’s story out to be a bit more action-oriented to meet the requisite runtime of a TV series. However, the novel has an interiority and command of character that strikes closer to the reason why these pieces exist, which is:

Fuck capitalism, your body is fine, accept it and stop funneling money into the weight loss industry, but you will never, ever, be able to fit in without fighting for your right to do so. (And you still might hate yourself for doing so.)

To summarize: Plum Kettle is an ghostwriter giving private email advice to whomever mail her under the name of teen lifestyle magazine empress Kitty Montgomery. Plum is also fat, has always been fat, and wants to get surgery so she’ll be ‘Alicia’, her given name, the thin girl waiting inside of her. While working for Kitty, she’s roped into a group of ‘Jennifers’, an extremist organization that has no qualms about killing men and women who perpetuate a masculine agenda at the cost of women’s lives. Matters escalate.

While Noxon’s adaptation scrutinizes the changing of Plum from a meek, self-loathing woman into a revolutionary, Walker’s novel takes a different tact in exploring the dichotomy between who Plum feels as a fat person, and who she’d feel like as Alicia, a thin person. The Jennifers are backgrounded, a means to an existential end. It’s purely about Plum and the reader’s journey.

Look: I know I’m a middle-aged CIS dude. I am not the target audience for this work. However, I’ve struggled with my own weight issues. As a teen, I was definitely a calorie-counting anorexic, a behavioral note that DIETLAND hammers home. At my lowest scale reading, I was 130lbs, which for a 6’2” person was not healthy, but health be damned — I was a lithe goth boy!

Then, after working in diners and then meeting a woman who introduced me to the wonders of fine dining — as opposed to the same reliable carbs I’d routinely eat — I got fat. Then I found a very stupid, but very healthy and fun way to lose that weight: DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION, a videogame that knows a bunch of weight-obsessed folks play it, as it counts your calories with each track you dance to. It was way ahead of PELOTON with gamifying weight loss but, sadly, apparently is no longer profitable, and no longer exists due to the whims of its corporation.

Predictably, I gained the weight back, although under better circumstances: mostly beers in-between theater screenings and the like. I recall waking up one morning and realizing ‘oh, I’m just a fat person. This is who I am now.’ I felt a bit at peace with that reckoning. I stopped weighing myself and just started accepting my girth for what it was.

Then, the pandemic occurred, and in a fit of stress-induced anxiety, lost twenty pounds without even realizing it, which then provoked a flood of endorphins and, well, I thought: I lost this much through inaction, so let’s try action! And now I’ve lost at least fifty pounds, I can wear pants and shirts I haven’t worn in over a decade — although that’s probably a fashion crime — but I still feel like garbage. My wife calls it self-control, but I know the real term for it, and I haven’t felt the same sort of acceptance that I felt when I told myself that I was fat.

What DIETLAND instills is that the fat, insecure person will always live in you. It becomes part of your identity. You will always see them, even if others don’t. It’s a resignation that, in the novel, leads to a personal and political revolution. In real life, that doesn’t really happen.

I’d like to say I ‘recovered’, but as anyone who has struggled with weight knows: there’s no recovery; not really. There are highs and lows, at least until a final acceptance, which is the ultimate point of DIETLAND, but at the end of the day, DIETLAND is still a fictional work. Living with that is far harder than turning the last page.

I don’t feel that most men think about their looks or weight, or at least more than they have to which — by American standards — is very little if they’re heteronormative. I’m thankful to have a network of friends I can confide to about this, but I fear many don’t, which is exactly why I’m writing this. I can say: both the series and the book have helped me process a number of weight-related issues, and if you suffer from that, maybe these works will speak to you, too.


As noted in my ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER post, in 2021 I completed a seven-year-long endeavor to read every Poirot novel. Why? I wanted to scrutinize how Christie adjusted Poirot and his scenarios to adapt to the passage of time, given that the initial Poirot novel — THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES — was first published in 1920, and the last-penned novel — ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER — was published in 1972. A single author continuing the journey of a character explicitly created to examine human nature, over the span of fifty years, is a curious thing indeed.

However, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES was not my first Christie book; that would be the second Miss Marple book THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY, which I picked up on a whim while in London, several months prior to reading my first Poirot novel.

While I haven’t found the need to burn through all of Christie’s Marple novels, I became intensely curious about THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM SIDE TO SIDE (CRACK’D from here on out), as it features Marple diving into the world of Hollywood, specifically the world of acting, when the acclaimed-but-aging actress Marina Gregg moves into Gossington Hall*. While throwing a lavish introductory party, one of the locals ends up being poisoned, and Scotland Yard presumes that the murder was misplaced, that Marina was the actual target, and the mystery is then investigated.

While CRACK’D takes place in the early sixties, its reliance on the Hollywood of old, and Christie’s demeanor and approach makes it feel more like a post WWII mystery novel, even down to the scandal trades that she notes (CONFIDENTIAL and the like) makes the tale feel aged and artificial, as if it’s something Marple is regaling a relative with as opposed to living in the moment. In other words, it’s not one of Christie’s finest moments.

There’s also the fact that the mystery is nakedly cribbed from real-life events. Spoilers follow, so reader beware.

CRACK’D is essentially the story of Gene Tierney, perhaps best known for the enigmatic film noir adaptation of LAURA. Tierney was quite the starlet during the 40s, was the model for Mariana Gregg, and whose child was afflicted due to being in close proximity to someone inflicted with German Measles. If you know that fact going in, the mystery is quite straight-forward. Whether it was common knowledge in the early 60s is questionable, but given the fact that I knew it going in, it cast a bit of a pall over the story, especially since Marple barely bookends the story, leaving the heavy-lifting to Detective-Inspector Craddock.

Nonetheless, it’s an eminently brisk read, one worth your time if you’re interested in the inside baseball of 40s Hollywood, but if you aren’t, and aren’t a fan of Miss Marple? Feel free to return to the library.

  • Gossington Hall was where the titular body in the library was found in THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY, bringing my Christie journey full-circle.