Before I begin, I should be honest: I’m no fan of Grady’s and I am very outspoken about it. I only read this because A) there was no wait for it at the library, and B) a friend was reading it, giving me live updates, and I couldn’t justifiably tear it apart without at least giving it a try. However, I don’t dislike all of his books on default. Part of me was suspecting/hoping that I would get pulled in despite myself and enjoy the ride.
Not this time. I didn’t like this book, and a large part of that (though definitely not all) is that Grady’s pandering shtick just doesn’t work on me. It’s true, I did like My Best Friend’s Exorcism, but grudgingly. It was the heartfelt emotion between the two main characters that had me glued to those pages (something we get none of here), not the ridiculous “look, see, remember this!” 80s nostalgia uncomfortably and awkwardly crammed in.
First of all, I can’t imagine how he got away with this. The line where homage turns into theft is very thin, not clear, and shaky. I don’t even know what this is. But I’ll give an example (one of many): one side character, a final girl, was stalked by a masked killer in high school called Ghost, who was dressed in black and had a white mask with black eye holes and a mouth that “yawned”. The killer turned out to be her boyfriend, conspiring with his friend to create their own final girl in a meta plot. Sound familiar? Let’s go one further: this final girl tries to move on and heads to college, when a deranged fellow student replicates the murders. While Grady chopped “-face” off of Ghost, he didn’t even bother to rename the college – Windsor, same as in Scream 2.
Look, even if you can argue that this is all justified homage, does that make it okay? Isn’t it, at the end of the day, just more of Grady’s lazy pandering? “Hey look everyone, it’s that thing from the 90s you all know about!”
What about the story itself? What’s going on here? There’s a ton of Final Girl talk crammed into the pages, from the title (I suspect the title came first and the book was written around it), to the chapter titles, to the narrator constantly referring to herself and her group of acquaintances as such. Before this book was even published it was already tired; do you know how many books and films have been coming out the last handful of years with “final girl” somewhere in the title? It’s a lot. But here comes Grady, “Hey, look, you little fuckers love this final girl shit, eat this!”
But the more I read, the more I began to realize that if you strip away the final girl backstories and focus on the narrative itself, it’s so far removed from everything we know and/or love about the slasher genre that made final girls so iconic. The main character, presenting in the increasingly tired present-tense and first-person combo, makes a lot of irrational leaps and assumptions that partly seem to imply an unreliable narrator while also propelling the narrative along in a haphazard, meandering fashion. Drive long enough and far enough and eventually something happens, right? There’s a sense of fugitives running from the law, kidnapping, espionage and classic stakeouts, embodying not the slasher genre but a 12-year-old’s incredibly uninspired riff on the recent Billy Summers. It’s true, Grady manages to work the phrase “final girl” into every single page to hammer home the theme, but it doesn’t erase the fact that the narrative is incredibly far removed from the slasher he’s set us up to expect. I mean, when critical moments arise, these so-called final girls make rookie mistakes that go against everything we’ve been told about them: not turning your back on the killer without checking they’re dead, or not assuming the battered car will start are no-brainers, one would think.
Folks, this novel is no different from the dozens and dozens of thrillers being pumped out that get a ton of buzz despite inherent mediocrity (I wonder if it’s *because* of: I’ve noticed that Book of the Month selects a lot of these novels that will appeal to as many readers as possible rather than ones that set themselves apart from the crowd – with exceptions, of course). I’m thinking of The Whisper Man, or its follow-up The Shadows, or The Silent Patient, or any of the formulaic bores Riley Sager puts out (and can you spot the trend among all these authors?). Grady sets himself apart with an overly long, overly cutesy title, and then dresses the narrative up in either nostalgia or whatever gimmick will target the white women he’s pandering to.
Final gi-I mean thoughts, final thoughts: This book is a waste of your time, and final girls deserve better. See ya next year, Grady. I’m sure “The Knitting Librarian’s Ultimate Handbook for Being a Bad Witch” or whatever will be out soon.