I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Final Girls by Riley Sager
Published by Penguin on July 11th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense, Psychological, Contemporary Women
Format: Electronic ARC
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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 like 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.
3.5 Stars. Quincy Carpenter is the lone survivor of the Pine Cottage Massacre, making her the third member of an elite group that nobody wants to join: the Final Girls. Lisa Milner, Samantha Boyd, and Quincy each endured real-life horrors and survived against all odds. Of all the crimes that have occurred over the years, their cases are the ones that captured the nation’s imagination. Ten years after the massacre, Quincy still has no memory of what happened that night. She has managed to put the past behind her and live a relatively normal life as a successful baking blogger. Unfortunately, it’s not going so well for all of the Final Girls. Lisa is found dead in her bathtub, in a suspected suicide. After the news of Lisa’s death becomes public, Sam emerges from hiding and shows up on Quincy’s doorstep. Quincy is suspicious of Sam at first, but she welcomes her into her home. Sam claims that she just wants to make sure Quincy is doing okay, but she’s secretive about what she’s been up to all these years. Who is Sam and what does she really want? Will Sam’s presence help Quincy remember what really happened that night at Pine Cottage?
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.
Final Girl is “film‑geek speak for the last woman standing at the end of a horror movie.” This book is the story of a Final Girl’s life after the last “scene.” In horror movies, the Final Girl usually has a unisex name and abstains from sex, drugs, and alcohol. Quincy definitely fits the role! She has a “goodness” that arouses sympathy, a vulnerability that inspires people’s protective instincts, and a strength that shows anyone can overcome trauma and come out better in the end. To the outside world, she emerged from the rubble as an archetype, not an actual human being with complex emotions who watched her best friends get murdered. When there’s an anniversary or new developments, the media descends on her doorstep and she’s expected to make herself available to the masses. Surviving a massacre has become her defining quality. She’s expected to rise above it all and be the perfect victim. Even those closest to Quincy want her to forget the massacre ever happened, yet are still willing to reduce her to an “object of pity” when it’s useful. She is shamed when she shows any sign of weakness. In the midst of all these expectations, Quincy feels herself disappearing. Her entire life is a performance.
Baking is a science, as rigorous as chemistry or physics. There are rules that must be followed. Too much of one thing and not enough of another can lead to ruin. I find comfort in this. Outside, the world is an unruly place where men prowl with sharpened knives. In baking, there is only order.
The three Final Girls have different ways of handling their trauma. Lisa surrounded herself with friends and dedicated her life to helping others. Samantha went off the grid. Quincy keeps people at a distance and dedicates herself to her baking blog and a highly curated life. Baking allows Quincy to “pour [her] runny, sloshing existence into a human‑shaped mold and crank up the heat, emerging soft, springy, and new.” When Sam shows up her door, Quincy’s perfect facade begins to fade away. Sam is one of the only people in the world who understands what she went through, so she doesn’t have to pretend around her. Sam injects chaos into Quincy’s life and encourages her to make the messy parts visible. One of my favorite scenes is when Sam helps Quincy set up shots for her baking blog. After spending time with Sam, Quincy gets even more dependent on Xanax and wine and becomes a completely different person. The rage she has been forced to lock up begins to seep out. Will the memories she keeps locked up finally break free?
There’s such a thing as too much sweetness … All the best bakers know this. There needs to be a counterpoint. Something dark. Or bitter. Or sour. Unsweetened chocolate. Cardamom and cinnamon. Lemon and lime. They cut through all the sugar, taming it just enough so that when you do taste the sweetness, you appreciate it all the more
I loved the atmosphere! My favorite parts were the flashbacks to the night at Pine Cottage. All the ingredients for disaster are there and the lead up to the massacre is tense. The flashback chapters are few and far between at first, but they get closer together as it gets closer to the conclusion. There were a few things that kept this book from being a favorite. In books with amnesiacs + first-person perspective, there’s almost always a lull after the first third where I get sick of being stuck in the main character’s head (In a Dark, Dark Wood, Gone Without a Trace, The Trap). The characters didn’t come alive for me so much that I was invested in their fates. (Honestly, Quincy didn’t always seem invested in her own fate!) The conclusion was the exact one I was hoping against and it made the parts that intrigued me not so interesting anymore. Some events seemed to not have much of a purpose except to mislead me. However, I also couldn’t put it down, which is sometimes exactly what I’m looking for. I read 90% of the book in one day. It’s a good summer read, and probably an even better autumn one.
You can’t change what’s happened. The only thing you can control is how you deal with it.
As Quincy reads articles about Lisa’s death, she gets a glimpse of what her own obituary will look like. The journalists focus “on the horrors Lisa witnessed that long‑ago night, as if no other moments of her life mattered.” Quincy hates that other people see her as a Final Girl or a victim, but sometimes that’s exactly what she sees when she looks in the mirror. Will she ever be able to see herself as a survivor? The Final Girls shows how horror movie tropes have roots in reality–the fetishization of young women who endured unspeakable horrors, while ignoring the reality of their situation. The sordid details of their ordeals are what sells papers, but few are comfortable recognizing the resulting trauma. I wasn’t completely on board by the end, but I enjoyed it while reading it. This book is a good choice if you’re looking for an all-consuming weekend read.