The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls

2013 • 288 pages


Average rating3.5


Book Club for Jan,I'm just going to admit right off the top that this one lost me. I feel stupid for not getting it. Maybe this was too smart for me, too deconstructed. But it isn't deconstructed, and maybe I am wrong and simply doubling down in my ignorance, but this isn't all that smart either. The Shining Girls seemed extremely promising at the outset, here's this very well researched glimpse into 1930s Chicago that leads into a time travel murder-thriller-mystery. This is a book about Harper, a psycho vagrant from the 1930s who stumbles upon a magic time traveling house. After murdering its owner, he explores the house only to feels like he's been in there before. He discovers a trademark psycho-killer room upstairs, there he finds photos of young women and shining pieces of memorabilia connected by lines carved, drawn, and stained into the walls. The house is his vehicle, his mission is to murder all the shining girls across time while sprinkling collectibles at the crime scene. It all goes pretty good at first, he taunts the young version of the women, giving them each a gift he'll come back for. But he messes up, he doesn't kill Kirby. She survives his attack and begins investigating him at her Chicago Sun internship. I can tell that Lauren Beukes is a talented author, I can't write this entire book off. This seems to be pretty well researched from the Chicago perspective, Mayor Donovan (Read Klayton) was a nice touch to the Randolph street Hooverville. There's actually a surprising amount of visual detail in here, particularly where it concerns the descriptions of the shining girls as Harper sees them. But that's about all the praise I can muster; there is a breakdown in the story the closer we approach the core of the narrative. I wish that I knew how every detail connected up, the fact that I can't even try has me questioning myself. Maybe it's in here, an explanation? A satisfying conclusion? Something that can justify an ending that reeks of toast. I couldn't tell you what happens at the end of this story. I mean, I can, Kirby gets tipped off that some menacing guy is asking after her. Showcasing some uncharacteristic wile, she stalks Harper back to the time travel house and sneaks in with enabler/mentor/admirer Dan after the police search and find nothing but crack house. Dan fights Harper in 1929 while Kirby burns all the shining memorabilia and splatters Harpers brains on the carpet when he returns to the house to stop her.. But the ending explains nothing. Why do the girls shine? Why is house magic? Who is Harper? Nothing. This book ends like oh-s0-many thrillers, with the protagonist defeating the villain, just without any of the catharsis or satisfaction of unraveling the mystery. Most time travel books really work their asses off to explain the function of time travel in their universe, or at least they try to get the reader to understand the role that time travel will play in the larger narrative beyond simply existing. We have time travel here, and for the first third it's just a big whatever! So much of the early parts of this book are just like “here's a thing” or “here's a brutal murder” and then the page turns, and it means nothing because now we're in 1989 and following a completely different character and narrative thread. I'm all for a puzzling read, but it has to unravel eventually!I read this right after [b:Recursion 42046112 Recursion Blake Crouch 64277987] so it's very apparent to me that there is some genre confusion going on here. The balance in the SF-Thriller formula is not being respected, this is a thriller that just glosses over its SF elements and not a complete melding of concepts. I'm not saying that the formula is fixed and that you can't alter the ratio, movies the like the Lake house prove that you can designate your non-SF elements as the focus and still tell a compelling story. The problem in The Shining Girls is that there is just too much of the story wrapped up in the non-mystery/thriller aspects. To end the book without resolving those threads is to present us with a book that is undercooked.I know that I said I can't write the whole book off, but I am close. Those Chicago history moments? They read like they came out of a history book, honestly, for as accurate as the portrayal of Chicago was, it rang inauthentic and scripted (As the acknowledgements illuminate: the setting comes from some haunted city tours). I haven't even touched on the characters: Dan, her journalist mentor with a big time crush that just robs him of agency (Please Dan, can I investigate these 80-year-old murders on company time? I know we're supposed to cover the cubs, but they'll be irrelevant until 2016 fluttering lashes). Kirby herself is mostly an impression in my mind, a collection of scars and crazy ideas that the story describes as charming; she's an extremely jaded individual. The problem is that all of her life experience is being backfilled as a way to excuse or explain her poor social skills. I am not a fan, the formula seems to be: Kirby talks to someone, Kirby feels awkward, or the conversation sucks, Kirby does or says something out of pocket or awkward, and then we get a page or two about how much it sucked to have her throat slit. I'm sure that experience scars you (in more ways than one) but we're with her after a multi-year time skip and there's not enough context for the reader to excuse these quirks of her character. That applies to everyone in this book; It felt like a lot of the initial development/establishing of the cast was covered with a coat of gloss. Avery, our limping time travelling psycho, is just that, a collection of keywords and phrases. He does stuff all book long without any rhyme or reason, he has major character moments only for them to read like filler because of how little we know about his inner machinations. I did not like this book, and I feel a little short-changed. The entire book is saying, “Read me! I'm smart and complex and mysterious! It'll all pay off, just keep going!” only to not pay off and not be anything but complicated for the sake of complication. This was extremely well received in 2013, and those media rights went straight to DiCaprio. Did other people get this? Am I wrong here? They made a show out of this! Where is the appeal!

January 9, 2024Report this review