Holy fuck. It’s really been a while since I’ve reviewed fiction and that’s for a myriad of reasons – most of which center around most modern fiction being practically unreadable. We live in a time that is highly deadly to the modern word, a time where the Stephenie Meyers and EL Jameses of the world run wild and pollute us all with their vile filth committed to the page. I spent five years getting my BA, studying the greats, pondering the meaning beholden inside old meandering poems, and now when I see “SUMMER BEACH READS”, I pretty well want to gouge out both of my eyes with a wooden cooking spoon. Clearly that isn’t to say that all fiction is ridiculous and reads like a ninth grade book report, but there’s enough out there that makes the moment of reading a book that isn’t utter shit so valuable to me. Most recently I have been reading vast medical tomes or nonfiction and I was recommended “The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes, weirdly by Instagram. Oh Instagram, so far you haven’t steered me wrong and oh how I adore wasting time scrolling through pictures of cats and witchy things.
So join me for a book review of “The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes. Grab your whiskey and pour some in a tea cup for god’s sake.. this is a book review, not some night at a dive bar.
So the premise of “The Shining Girls” centers around Harper Curtis, a Depression era drifter who is compelled to murder women who he calls the “shining” girls. These women glow with potential, with life and provide the nectar that Harper just can’t stop craving. He is bound to snuff out the light in these women, it is his purpose. Harper stumbles upon a house, a structure that calls to him and allows him the ability to travel through time. By walking into the house and coming out again, Harper can find himself transported from the 1920s to the 1990s and back again. His gruesome murders become displays in a trophy room of his, festooned with random takings from his victims, which he will then plant on future and past victims – baseball cards, tapes, pins, jewelry, and most telling of all, a My Little Pony toy, grossly out of place.
Across the spectrum from the darkness that sits inside Harper, collecting light unto itself like so many black holes, is Kirby Mazrachi, a shining girl. Kirby is the girl who receives the pony toy from Harper, out of place, a stolen trinket and she carries it with her until Harper disembowels her in a bird sanctuary, seemingly ending her life and snuffing out that glow she carries.
Like the penultimate survivor girl from horror movies, there is something inside Kirby, this striking resilience and spark that pushes her up, bleeding horribly and she struggles to live, and that is exactly what she does. Surviving the vicious attack, Kirby desires to find out the truth about her would be murderer and through the Chicago-Sun Times internship she meets Dan Velasquez who she takes along for some quantum sleuthing.
From the beginning, it is obvious that something was not quite right with Kirby’s case, and it’s something she can feel in her bones, like a cancer. She is tied to Harper and he to her. As Harper’s brutality transcends space time, eventually Kirby is the last girl standing, that final pinnacle of innocence not yet unchained.
The character of Harper is this magnificent devil, in that he is so sparse. We find out little of his rationale, his motives, only that he is driven to destroy, to rend. He becomes this shrouded mystery that is able to stave off that feeling of goofiness. He is believably scummy and the murders he commits are vivid. What makes these graphic scenes all the more powerful is that we do not see them from his point of view, rather the point of view of the victims. We are not complicit in their murder, in their trauma, but rather it is us as well as these women being stabbed, feeling that brutality acted on to us.
What is important here to note is that there’s a very fine line that separates graphic murder from becoming torture porn, and Lauren Beukes manages to keep these murders decidedly unsexy. They’re horrifying, disgusting, and foul. This is so important now in the culture we live in that seems to devour the rape and murder of women in popular media like cheap wine upended into it’s gaping maw. Torture porn has been done, and it has been done to death (heyoooo), so it is refreshing to read something that does not fall into that song and dance. There was a few points during my reading when I had to stop and reflect on what I had read, which should demonstrate how powerful the prose is that Lauren Beukes is penning.
Time travel has to be done correctly or it is atrocious (The Time Traveler’s Wife comes to mind), and again Lauren Beukes manages to pull off the time continuum situated in the House. Avoiding the science of things, she doesn’t offer the readers too far of a glimpse into either Harper’s motivations or those of the House – they both just exist, they both just are. This is a bold move to just opt to not explain something, and yet it works. I was able to suspend my disbelief and fully engross myself into the story being told and did not question my lack of understanding.
Harper and Kirby are these two forces that seem to inexpliably intertwined and involved in each other’s lives that truly one is almost not able to exist without the other. Harper finds himself unable to move forward once he realizes that he truly did not end Kirby’s life and the two eventually face off, and the result is breath taking and had me anxiously turning the pages until near 3am because I had to stay up all night to find out what happened.
That’s a real pleasant feeling isn’t it – the one you get when you finish a book? The relief, and then, the sadness. That story is over, and it’s kind of a “what’s next?”, at least for me anyways.
With this in mind, I truly hope that you my lovely dark and spooky readers will select “The Shining Girls” to be the next read you wake up from feeling both fufilled and a little sad. This book was a gooder and I hope you will check it out.
Until next time – avoid time travel because it makes my brain hurt, don’t trust any man who stumbles out of bushes to give you a My Little Pony toy, and always always ALWAYS STAY SPOOKY!