I’ve been embarking on a reading task for 2019. Now that school is over and Ive turned 33 and launched into a career, I have found myself with a lot of time on my hands. Where this time used to be spent cramming for exams, psychotically remembering facts or crying, I have found myself paging through novels, buying baskets full at the thrift store, only to donate them right back the following week. I bought an iPad and got myself the Kindle app, and now I spend my time staring at a screen even longer than I should.
I’ve challenged myself to read (and hopefully review) at least 52 books in 2019.
While paging through endless “best of” lists for 2018, I came across a list that screamed the praises of Claire Legrand’s “Sawkill Girls” and I went onto Amazon immediately and purchased the kindle edition.
Now, what drew me to Sawkill Girls was the promise of a Stranger Things type monster romp featuring an all girl cast. I love Stranger Things and this was an immediate selling point for me. This said – if you’re looking for Stranger Things, you won’t find it in Sawkill Girls. Sawkill Girls read to me more like an all female IT spin off rather than a 1980s throw back.
I was very interested in the first act of the book. A pair of sisters, Charlotte and Marion accompany their grieving mother following the untimely death of their father to become the hired help for the rich Mortimer family who has inhabited Sawkill for generations.
I noticed right away some technical difficulties within the actual writing – at points the dialogue was clunky, and I felt the writing lacked the polished narrative style that I tend to appreciate, something which was marred throughout by alternating viewpoints which never seemed to alternate enough into varying voices. I found at points that the voices were so similar, I often had to double check the start of each chapter to see whose point of view I was understanding. This made for difficult reading that kept pulling me out of the story.
As far as story, without revealing too too much about the book, the basic plot goes that for years girls have been going missing on Sawkill Rock, their bodies are never found. The truth is that a monster is behind the disappearances, a monster that is feeding, and biding it’s time in the shadows, a monster that has ancient connections to this world and other worlds and lingers through the doings of the Mortimer family.
I liked some of the lead up to the monster reveal, the actual descriptions of the monster were unsettling and spooky, but I found myself wanting more monster and less sociopolitical commentary. Now, this book is technically classed in part as YA fiction and boasted a 4hr rough reading time on the Kindle app, making it not necessarily a small feat to complete, and I found myself wondering if many in the YA crowd would be able to stick around through the book. I found the characters to be either one sided and flat or perennial Mary-Sues. The feminist overtones of the book at first seem empowering but quickly become heavy handed and overdone. And this is coming from a female identifying person who is queer and POC.
I found myself wanting the girls to be strong and feminist without having to assert their strong feminism. I wanted to feel empowered rather than pandered to, and I wasn’t sure that I was necessarily the right audience for the book. There’s a very strong LGBTQ component including a fairly graphic lesbian sex scene which was actually quite tenderly written and I did find to be affirming as well as other pieces touching on the nature of asexual individuals, with one character’s entire story arc being comprised of being asexual. However, the asexual story arc should have been empowering to read, but instead felt tacked on. Zoey being ace didn’t move me or encourage representation, rather I felt she was tokenized down to this single aspect of her personality. Even the piece about her losing her best friend Thora did not serve to move her character, only her asexuality which connected her to her failed relationship did.
The inclusion of a cult of men known as The Hand Of Light was super heavy handed as well, and their obvious metaphor as the “patriarchy” was so goofily over done. They were practically moustache twirling cartoon villains. The book’s constant shift in viewpoint, tone, and even genre made it all even harder to grasp. Many concepts are never explained fully so the book takes on a kind of surreal feeling which isn’t necessarily bad, because books that envelope the reader in hard science fiction head trips or even dream – pop hellscapes like Sawkill Girls can be successful, but with this one, I found myself more baffled than anything else.
I wanted very much to find more pieces in Sawkill Girls that worked for me, but the second and third acts really became undone and I began thinking how much better Sawkill Girls would be as a television series, where dramatic shifts in viewpoint could be better illustrated through visual pieces, rather than written. I wanted someone to show me these girls, show me their lives, show me the monster, show me Sawkill Rock.
This may not be the woke fluff piece that one may want to read, but I find that I grow weary of media created with an agenda. I want female feminist representation in my media, I want LGBTQ representation, I want people of colour to be represented, but I want these things to be represented naturally and with reverence and respect rather than being tokenized and further othered. And this is one of the big points for me – I felt othered while reading this book, something to be examined, something exotic to put on display, something unique simply for being not the norm.
I want the raw power of Ellen Ripley, of Sarah Connor, not girls whose whole story arcs revolve around checking with their boyfriends if their asexuality is acceptable. Powerful females wouldn’t need this validation to end their stories and be complete. I ended Sawkill Girls and felt myself wanting more, wanting more story, a more concise and reasonable ending. But, like with so many things, this wasn’t my story to tell, and while I didn’t personally resonate with this fiction, like I have mentioned previously – I’m not the audience it was written for. There are benefits to fiction pieces like this – youths who find themselves marginalized by conventional media may feel empowered to read of the Sawkill Girls. A younger version of myself may have seen myself in Zoey, Val or even Marion.
However, much like the disgust I feel when other females my age wax idiotic about how they wish they could be 18 or 20 again, I found my journey through Sawkill Rock one that left me never wanting to go back.
2/6 – interesting monster elements with a clunky story that is overshadowed by heavy handed feminist sociopolitical commentary.
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