Review of You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott

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As in Dare Me, here with You Will Know Me Megan Abbott portrays the intense world of teenaged athletic competition, but with a wider focus and from a different angle. Tho’ the story centers on the 15 y/o gymnast Devon Knox, it is told in the 3rd person almost entirely from the point of view of Devon’s mother Katie, who is herself just in her mid 30s. She & her husband Eric have devoted themselves totally & gone in debt up to their lower middle-class ears to further Devon’s ambition to Elite status, the gateway to the US team & the Olympics. The irony is that there is but one fleeting chance for a girl; only a sleek but very muscular prepubescent body can execute the routines @ the championship level; by the time a girl is old enough to have a driving license, she’s over the hill. College gymnastics is for failures.

Because we see things from Katie’s POV, we only gradually discover what is happening in Devon’s personal life. As a 3 y/o, she lost a couple of toes in a lawn mower accident – her father’s fault – & her deformed foot plays a complex role in the working out of the story, as well as symbolizing an inner wound both in Devon herself & in the Knox family. Personally I failed to find Devon anywhere near as engaging a character as Anton DiSclafani’s Thea Atwell or Heather Lewis’s Lee in House Rules or Megan Abbott’s own Beth Cassidy in Dare Me. But Devon’s total devotion to excellence is both her most admirable trait, & her most frightening as well. She is indeed a kind of monster. The title of the book seems both ambiguous & ironic. We will know Devon because she is going to be famous; but will we ever really know what she is like on the inside? Does she even have an inner life? There were moments when we catch glimpses of her true self. Not in school essays, where Devon describes overcoming her fears: these read like stagey posturing, how a teenaged athlete is expected to feel as a role model for other girls. But we do when we’re told, “She hadn’t learned, Katie & Eric hadn’t taught her—that the things you want, you never get them. And if you do, they’re not what you thought thety’d be. But you’d still do anything to keep them. Because you’d wanted them for so long.” There’s a moment where Devon tells Katie, “You never want to hear what it’s like being me.” Rings completely true, it’s what every teenager probably says to a parent @ some point, & yet it brings out the unnatural reversal of roles. The adults, Devon’s parents, had put their selves & their entire future as a family in the hands of a 15 y/o, her dedication, , her drive, her muscles, her skill, her ability to resist temptation.

Yet I’d not felt the snobbish superiority towards Eric & Katie that I had towards the parents in The Fever, tho’ Megan Abbott’s portrayal of the other girl gymnastics’ parents, the BelStar Boosters, has a marvelous satiric edge. Teddy, the coach, captures our sympathy, but he cannot be what Coach French briefly manages briefly to be for Addy in Dare Me, the adult friend & model a teenager like Devon so needs. Ironically—& beautifully artistically—the character who ought to play that role, the coach’s niece, becomes instead Devon’s worst enemy.

As a mystery story, You Will Know Me plays very fair with the reader & I expect most will divine the main secrets before Katie does. But spiritually & morally I found You Will Know Me leaves the reader a lot to think about & as with Dare Me, I’ll probably need to write a fuller retrospective review sometime later. For now, tho’, I think that spiritually it is successful in showing how admirable it is to devote oneself totally to athletic or artistic success, even @ the price of forsaking or betraying personal relationships, especially when inappropriate. But only when one is still immature & in one’s formative stage. (Which also explains why so many outstanding young athletes & artists burn out or become badly warped personalities later.) On the moral question of whether you should help cover up a crime for someone you love – especially when the victim may have needed killing – I quite approved of how the Knox family dealt with a messy situation.

For the sheer erotics of competition, I’d not quite put You Will Know Me @ the level of House Rules or Dare Me, but I would rank it very high. Megan Abbott captured for me the combination of athleticism & beauty that characterizes women’s gymnastics. I have already seen some reviewers who declare that this is Megan Abbott’s best book. Personally I think I find the characters in Dare Me more attractive & deeper. But for scope & as an understanding portrayal of family dynamics, You Will Know Me is simply brilliant.

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