I have not been shy about boosting Megan Abbott over the years; QUEENPIN — her third novel — was a foundational text for me. Upon initially reading it, I asked myself the same question that I’ve asked myself upon consuming other transformative works: “You can get away with this?”
QUEENPIN is a lurid and lusty piece of neo-noir about a smart but young woman who falls in doing accounting work for questionable people, and matters quickly escalate into a very combative piece about two willful women butting heads and committing increasingly terrible acts.
That’s Abbott’s oeuvre in a nutshell. She’s all about the power dynamics of female relationships, appetites, and those who take advantage of the those facets. Perfect material for neo-noir but — as Abbott quickly sussed out — also well-suited for young adult novels, of which she penned a handful of (including the cheerleading YA-noir DARE ME, which she adapted into a canceled too soon USA TV show).
THE TURNOUT is the first book of hers in some time to feature an adult protagonist and players. Granted, it still focuses on extraordinarily physical youth-centric endeavors — this time ballet — and has a number of teen flashbacks, but the endgame here is all about the adults and living with the wreckage of their youth.
It’s a tale of two sisters — Dara, a flinty ice queen, and Marie, mercurial and immature — who run their dead mother’s ballet studio. For years, Dara and Marie and Dara’s husband Charlie, also an ex-dancer who grew up alongside them, lived under their dead parents’ roof. Marie decides to move out, opting to live in the attic of the studio, which used to be their mother’s private space.
A fire breaks out in the studio and they enlist Derek — a smooth-talking contractor — to repair the space while they prepare for their annual NUTCRACKER slate of performances, and matters spiral from there.
Abbott’s prose and internal monologues have traditionally been her strengths, but THE TURNOUT has a lot of repetitive dialogue between characters, a number of redundant explanations, and the plotting also feels a little too neat, a little too exacting.
However, this is still an Abbott book, and those are nitpicks. It is vividly enthralling, with rich and complex characters about an under-examined artistic and physical medium, there’s more than a bit of du Maurier regarding how Abbott treats the dilapidated house and studio, and she definitely sticks the landing. It’s well-worth your time if you’re into off-beat thrillers and personas.