The Shining Girls
Title: The Shining Girls
Author: Lauren Beukes
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication Date: April 15, 2013
THE GIRL WHO WOULDN’T DIE HUNTS THE KILLER WHO SHOULDN’T EXIST.
“The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own.”
Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.
Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women, burning with potential, whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.
At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He’s the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable-until one of his victims survives.
Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth . . .
“But she was the kind of girl you couldn’t keep down. Unless you cut her up and caved in her skull.”
The Shining Girls follows Harper, a crude serial killer from the 1930’s that can hop through time; and Kirby, the spunky young woman that got away. This book was incredibly ambitious in its premise and I spent a great deal of my time reading the book wondering if it could deliver and I can happily say that I wasn’t disappointed.
The story is a heavily character driven dive through recent American history, from the Great Depression in the 1930’s all the way up to the early 1990’s. I was impressed by the amount of research that was put into this book, each decade having enough detail to get a good feel for the era. Many of the characters were pretty well fleshed out for such short chapters, and I found myself liking many of them.
My favorite part of the story, though, was the tragedy that was Harper because of how very flawed and human he is. He views himself as commanding, charming, persuasive, but to many of his victims he’s just downright creepy. He thinks himself calculating yet he makes mistakes left and right. He has a drive to rise up from the trenches of poverty and starvation from his own era, to be powerful. His choice of victims are all women in a great act of femicide, because he has this dire need to feel masculine. He chooses women that he views as invincible, that shine with ambition in order to assert his dominance by snuffing them out. He thinks he has this divine purpose, a destiny to fulfill because he wants it so desperately, even though the reality is that it’s simply senseless violence with no real meaning. He obsesses over the murders, returning to the scene of the crimes over and over to get off. Harper is pathetic. It was a refreshing change from the stereotypical smooth, genius archetype that glorifies killers. I didn’t know right away that this book was meant to be a feminist novel, but that’s what I took away from not only Harper’s struggle with masculinity, but with the strong and fiercely independent female characters all throughout the book.
There were a couple of problems with the book, however, that I feel need to be addressed. The mash up of genres is both a good and bad aspect of the story. The middle chapters where romance comes into play to me was really distracting and feels out of place. The tagline describing the novel also states that “the girl who wouldn’t die hunts the killer who shouldn’t exist” but honestly, it didn’t feel much like Kirby was really hunting the killer. Looking for connections with other murder cases and investigating some wild hunches, yes, but really she spends most of the book developing her bond with Dan. I would have really liked for this to be more of a cat and mouse type of hunt between Kirby and Harper.
The chapters with Harper were much more interesting, but even those became a little repetitive. We as the reader follow Harper as he stalks his victims in childhood, waiting for the right time to strike when they reach adulthood. While it was necessary for the plot to detail the characters to both connect them to the greater chain of paradoxes and to show Harper’s descent, the violence is excessive and extremely detailed, and after a while it started to feel more like torture porn. It just got tiring after a while.
Despite its flaws, I thought this book was good, and I mean really good. I loved the way that the time paradoxes were handled, time travel stories tend to be tricky and usually end up with a couple of glaring loop holes. The loops are handled in a way that I found satisfying and this book is easily my favorite time travel novel I’ve ever read. It is truly unique and a story I won’t soon forget.
Strengths: Unique, handles the web of time paradoxes well
Weaknesses: Mash-up of genres is disjointing, romance is distracting at best, repeated murder scenes gets wearisome
Warnings: Extreme violence, gore, language, sex
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