Tag: Lionel Shriver

First Steps: Suburban Noir

Posted June 14, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in First Steps / 6 Comments

First Steps is a new segment that was inspired by the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge. I plan to talk about what books might be great to read from different themes, genres or maybe authors. Not necessarily all easy to read books but the ones that are worth the time and effort. My goal is to have First Steps guide you to some great books in places you don’t normally venture.

I was asked in the comments about the sub-genre suburban noir and at first I didn’t want to write a post about it, but the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. I need to revive my First Steps guides, but first I think it might be necessary to firstly explain what noir is before looking at suburban noir. Noir is a crime genre that came from the age of pulp fiction; it tends to focus on a plot where the protagonist is the victim, suspect, or perpetrator. It is a genre that normally plays with gritty realism and the psychological.

Suburban noir plays with the idea that there is something sinister going on in the nice quiet neighbourhood. Is there a killer living next door? Are you teenagers hiding a deep dark secret? There is often an element of crime and psychological suspense that runs through the narrative. While most novels are most likely to be classed as something more generic like crime or thriller this sub-genre (like the millions of other sub-genres) does exist.

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Beneath the glitz and glamour of this high school cheerleading squad is something dark. Beth Cassidy is the head cheerleader, her best friend Addy Hanlon is her right hand woman. While Beth calls the shots, Abby enforces; this has been the long established hierarchy. But when the new coach arrives, the order is disrupted. While coach draws the girls in and establishes a new regime, a suspicious suicide will put the team under investigation.  Think of this as Mean Girls to the extreme; you have the bitchiness of the girls, the struggle for popularity, and the angst but this is all turned upside down due to the shake-up caused by the new coach and the mystery surrounding their lives.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

When Amy disappears in suspicious circumstances all eyes fall to her husband as the primary suspect. Nick claims he is innocent but the evidence is not in his favour. Did Nick kill his wife? As this novel progresses any ideas of what happened will be shattered, any presumptions you’ve made about the characters will be wrong. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a dark and twisted journey with so much unpredictability that you will be up all night trying to find out what really happened to Amy.

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott is the Queen of suburban noir, her books epitomise the genre. The Fever is a dark and chilling story that explores the ideas of desire, guilt and secrets. A mysterious contagion that is causing seizures to a group of girls is also promoting mass hysteria within this community. In an effort to make sense of this mystery, the community focus their blame on anything they can think of, from HPV, vaccinations, toxic algae and whatever else might make sense of the situation.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

Jodi and Todd are in a bad place in their marriage, and their house and their lives are now at stake. The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. This novel questions marriage, our way of life and how far you will go to keep what is rightfully yours.


We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk about Kevin  tells the story of Eva, who is writing a series of letters to her husband recounting, and trying to understand what happened to cause their son, Kevin into a sociopath. From the very start, you are going to hate Kevin – you’ll probably even hate Eva – their relationship is far from perfect and it is possible that this may scare you from wanting to have kids. There was nothing really wrong with Kevin’s childhood, he was given everything he could ever need; he was just stuck in suburban hell. This book explores the nature versus nurture debate. It could have been Eva’s ambivalence to Kevin and motherhood that affected him, or something else.