Give Me Your Hand is the latest novel from Megan Abbott, and a somewhat confounding one.
It follows Kit, a woman in science, and her friend/colleague/frenemy since their teen years, Diane.
When they were teens, Diane was the type of person who always had it together. Diane was poised where Kit was fumbling and awkward. She was the calm to Kit’s uncertain. The effortlessly intelligent to Kit’s late nights hunched over textbooks.
Somehow, she simultaneously brought out the best and most insecure parts within Kit.
Kit thought Diane was firmly in her past. But when Diane shows up a decade later as the new scientist at her lab, the old insecurities return. This is where Abbott excels. Teen angst, social dynamics, insecurities – she looks at the deepest thoughts and feelings that plague people. Power dynamics become epic battles, internally fought.
The book goes a bit off the rails around midway through. There’s an incident with another scientist that is just a bit…much. And what follows said event are a series of “but why??” events.
It comes back around at the end and gives us that Abbott-esque deep psychological look at a character that makes us realize we didn’t truly know her at all, but doesn’t seem quite in keeping with her recent books.
To get some perspective, I thought back through the entirety of Megan Abbott’s literary work thus far.
I’m accustomed to her more recent, post Dare Me novels. In them, she writes about what she calls “the dangerous whimsy of the bored, suburban teenager” in a Publishers Weekly interview. Bored teens can be a dangerous thing, indeed.
We see that danger and the fraught social dynamics strongly in novels like You Will Know Me, Dare Me and The Fever. The struggle for power becomes tantamount within these microscosms. It’s a strange pull between betrayal and loyalty, with our characters not quite knowing which of those sides to land on at a given moment.
But before her teen-centered books, Abbott wrote pulp fiction, noir books. In her debut novel, Die a Little, for example, 1950s school teacher Lora isn’t quite sure what to make of her brother’s new wife, Alice. There’s something unsavory about Alice, despite her adeptness at learning to bake blintzes and canapes. So we delve into the seedy world of alcohol, disloyal friends, double-crosses, suspicious cops, and femme fatales.
It’s an interesting transition Abbott made, from the world of 1950s noir to modern teens, but not that far if a stretch. You’ll see a lot of those same themes from her pulpy noir days repeated on this new stage. Abbott seems especially to reach into both worlds in her newest novel.
Give Me Your Hand even features a pulp staple: the femme fatale.
Think about the character of Diane compared to, say the ladies of Sunburn, Double Indemnity, Body Heat, or The Postman Always Rings Twice. They’re deadly, beautiful, composed, manipulative. The characters playing opposite them never quite know whether to trust these femme fatales or their true intentions or thoughts.
Abbott delivers this strange mix of teen social dynamics and a noirish femme fatale in Give Me Your Hand.
It’s the reason that those accustomed to the Abbott of Dare Me and You Will Know Me may read Give Me Your Hand and say, “Wait…what?” In the end, I believe it works quite beautifully. But getting to the thoughtful conclusion is a bit bumpy.
Give Me Your Hand
Published July 2018
Little, Brown and Company
Watch this review of Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott and other book reviews on my Read Remark booktube/youtube channel.
Music credit: bensound.com.