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BOOK REVIEW: Final Girls by Riley Sager

BOOK REVIEW: Final Girls by Riley Sager

Ebury Press
July 2017
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Crime/Thriller

5/10

Final Girl is film-geek speak for the last woman standing at the end of a horror movie. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. Even before Pine Cottage, I never liked to watch scary movies because of the fake blood, the rubber knives, the characters who made decisions so stupid I guiltily thought they deserved to die. 
Only, what happened to us wasn’t a movie. It was real life. Our lives. The blood wasn’t fake. The knives were steel and nightmare-sharp. And those who died definitely didn’t deserve it.
But somehow we screamed louder, ran faster, fought harder. We survived.

First there were THREE

The media calls them the Final Girls – Quincy, Sam, Lisa – the infamous group that no one wants to be part of. The sole survivors of three separate killing sprees, they are linked by their shared trauma.

Then there were TWO

But when Lisa dies in mysterious circumstances and Sam shows up unannounced on her doorstep, Quincy must admit that she doesn’t really know anything about the other Final Girls. Should she trust them? Or…

Can there only ever be ONE

All Quincy knows is one thing: she is next.

 

This book purports to be everything that lovers of slasher films should enjoy, but the final product leaves something to be desired. The physicality of the book is eye-catching, complete with pages edged in bright pink and a cover that contrasts black with that same fluorescent pink around the edges. It’s just a shame that the story doesn’t live up the interesting blurb and vibrant cover. 

What I saw on that TV scared and confused and upset me. The weeping bystanders. The convoy of tarp-covered stretchers slipping beneath yellow tape crisscrossing the door. The splash of blood bright against the Indiana snow. It was the moment I realized that bad things could happen, that evil existed in the world.

Readers get to know Quincy through large chunks of present day events, in which we see she isn’t as okay as she pretends to be, and in between we see glimpses of the events surrounding the massacre she survived. After the arrival of the other remaining Final Girl, Sam, her present day does become a little harder to predict, a little unhinged.

The whole display is flat, lifeless. Everything is so pristine the cupcakes might as well be fake.. They certainly look that way. Plastic frosting on a foam base. “What would you do differently?”
Sam approaches the display with an index finger on her chin, lost in thought. She then goes to work, tearing through it like Godzilla stomping Tokyo. Some of the plates are cleared of cupcakes and hastily stacked. A ceramic pumpkin is knocked on its side and a napkin is crumpled and casually tossed, bouncing into the middle of the scene. Wrappers are torn from three cupcakes and dropped into the mix.
The once-pristine display is now chaotic. It resembles a table after a wildly entertaining dinner party, messy and satisfying and real.
It’s perfect.

But somehow, with the pending massacre in the past, and the volatile new friend in the present, this reader found it hard to really relate to the characters or entirely care where things were going. Many events and some of the twists were predictable, and the other twists were so far out of left-field that they didn’t make sense in the world of this story.

So many times it seemed the main character was being purposefully dense, which meant this reader could see what was coming far enough ahead that by the time Quincy figured it out I was in danger of serious strain from all the eye-rolling going on.

It was also incredibly frustrating that, whenever the man found guilty of the murders was mentioned, his glasses were “dirty” or “milky” or “smudged”. As an owner of glasses, this was maddening.

The disconnect aside, there were some really interesting quotes about damaged people:

A shiny tube of lipstick and a chunky gold bracelet. Several spoons. A silver compact plucked from the nurse’s station when I left the hospital following Pine Cottage. I used it to stare at my reflection during the long drive home, making sure I was actually still there. Now I study the warped reflections looking back at me and feel that same sense of reassurance.
Yes, I still exist.

So eager was my mother to have me medicated that I was forced to swallow one in the pharmacy parking lot, washing it down with the only liquid in the car—a bottle of lukewarm grape soda.
We’re done, she announced. No more blackouts. No more rages. No more being a victim. You take these pills and be normal, Quincy. That’s how it has to be.
I agreed. I didn’t want a troop of reporters at my graduation. I didn’t want to write a book or do another interview or admit my scars still prickled whenever a thunderstorm rolled in. I didn’t want to be one of those girls tethered to tragedy, forever associated with the absolute worst moment of my life.

The world’s fascination with serial killers and brutal murders:

While there were multiple homicides during those years, none quite got the nation’s attention like ours. We were, for whatever reason, the lucky ones who survived when no one else had. Pretty girls covered in blood. As such, we were each in turn treated as something rare and exotic. A beautiful bird that spreads its bright wings only once a decade. Or that flower that stinks like rotting meat whenever it decides to bloom.

And the kinds of things people write when they think they have anonymity:

An auto mechanic from Nevada once volunteered to chain me up in his basement to protect me from further harm. He was startling in his sincerity, as if he truly thought holding me captive was the most benevolent of good deeds.
Then there was the letter claiming I needed to be finished off, that it was my destiny to be butchered. It wasn’t signed. There was no return address.

There was plenty here that was interesting and quotable, but somewhere in the process of turning it into a narrative, Sager created a story that didn’t click with this reader, though readers with less slasher experience – and hence not expecting so much in the way of action – will likely find more to enjoy here.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Final Girls by Riley Sager

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