Die a Little
A Novel by Megan Abbott
Audiobook Read by Ellen Archer
2005 / 256 Pages
Listening Time: 6:37:32
As I’ve mentioned before, I hold Megan Abbott in the highest esteem as the queen of the neo-noir / modern pulp literary genre. Die a Little is Abbott’s debut novel and it’s easy to see why this book helped her build such a powerful reputation in the literary community. The story takes us to 1950s Hollywood where glitz and glamour disguise the seedy and dangerous truth of sex, romance, gender roles, marriage, and carefully-hidden identities. Of course, in a time before caller ID, infinite paper trails, and the internet, it wasn’t so difficult to live a double life. But for Alice Steele, it is only a matter of time before her lies, misdeeds, and manipulations are revealed.
Lora King and her brother Bill have lived a quiet domestic life until Alice enters the picture. Lora is public schoolteacher and Bill works for the District Attorney’s office in Los Angeles as an investigator, and when one of his cases leads him to Alice Steele, his law-enforcement instincts are completely blinded by her alluring beauty and bold sexuality, and it isn’t long before the two are married and settled. But even from the beginning, Lora is skeptical of her new sister-in-law. Her smile is a little too taut, her eyes a little too bright, and her influence over their circle of friends is curiously powerful and effortless.
But it isn’t long before Alice’s perfect facade begins to crack and Lora glimpses the danger and ugliness that lie beneath. Desperate to find out the truth about Alice and preserve her brother’s impeccable reputation, Lora enters the splintered, tragic world of Alice’s past. But as soon as she arrives, she quickly realizes that the seedy underbelly of Hollywood isn’t easy to escape, and Alice’s history is much darker than she ever realized. But self-preservation is a powerful motive for both the women, and Lora soon finds herself committing bold acts of peril and taking greater risks than she ever thought she was capable of.
Megan Abbott’s writing has breathed new life into the pulp literature genre. The lady knows how to write a top-notch hardboiled mystery complete with sharkskin suits, heavy-lidded pill-popping suburban femme fatales, and oh so many cigarettes. But I will say, the reading experience of Abbott’s work is much better than the listening experience. Perhaps I somehow managed to download a cheap knock-off of the original recording or something, because the version I had was strangely robotic and inconsistent. Many of the lines were read twice in a row, several words were mispronounced, and dialog was often delivered as if the narrator’s batteries were low.
So it wasn’t exactly the best listening experience, but still, Megan Abbott’s stories are completely addictive. Just when you think you’re ready to press pause or temporarily insert a bookmark, something happens that demands you to stay tuned. And while I didn’t love Die a Little as much as Queenpin, the rapid pulse of Abbott’s collective portfolio may very well compel the entire literary crime/mystery genre into cardiac arrest.