The Gentleman Recommends: Lauren Beukes

Book cover for The Shining GirlsThanking Day is upon us! That wondrous day when we don buckled hats and celebrate our freedom from, and subsequent dominion over, the turkey. We kill them by the millions and eat some of those, letting what isn’t consumed at the Thanking Day dinner rot over the course of days/weeks between sessions of picking at them like smug vultures whose smugness is leavened by the government-mandated shopping excursion just endured and all the getting-rammed-in-the-back-by-a-cart-full-of-big-screen-televisions-pushed-by-a-grandma-in-her-pajamas that that entails. After those beloved traditions, if there’s still time and one’s not too sleepy, people sometimes say thank you to concepts they enjoy. Your typical thanks are given for the obvious: family, suspenders, Kurt Vonnegut, food and our long ago victory on the horrific feather-drenched fields of the great turkey war. I, though, am most thankful for something altogether more tangible, besides suspenders: I’m thankful I’m not being hunted by a time-travelling serial killer. I’ve always said people don’t take enough time to reflect on and appreciate this facet of their existence.

As Lauren Beukes‘ unputdownable new novel makes abundantly clear, it would be terrible to be hunted by a time-travelling serial killer. Before I go further, I rescind my recommendation if you’re squeamish (guts get spilled, and the book is perpetually tense and intermittently gruesome). So for those that don’t care to be horrified in the process of reading a rip-roaring tale, I give you this for this month’s recommendation.  Now, for those twisted folk thirsting for a horrifying yarn, I recommend “The Shining Girls.” The premise is ripped from the headlines: a monstrous lunatic named Harper finds a house that spits him into a different year between 1931 and 1993 every time he exits it to find a lady suitable for murder, though as is typical with these houses, inside it remains 1931. After murdering a girl he takes a souvenir (comb, Jackie Robinson rookie card, etc.) and leaves a previously acquired memento behind. Kirby, the heroine, first meets him as a young girl when the killer arrives to demonstrate his ability to pull the wings off of a bee. To her disappointment, the man tells her he’ll see her again “when she’s all grow up.” Though some reviews disagree, Beukes does a tremendous job investing us in each “shining girl” before brutally tearing them away from us via Harper’s murdery hands. I’ve also seen a complaint or two about Harper’s characterization (“He’s just a crazy murdering monster – where’s the humanity?” they wail), but as anyone with a couple of days work in the restaurant industry will attest, monsters exist. Regardless, does featuring a heartless, irredeemable monster remove all worth from “Jaws” or “Martha Stewart: Just Desserts“? In addition to all the murdering, Beukes uses one disturbing scene from his childhood to let us know Harper is simply an abomination rather than a human molded by cruelty into a purveyor of violence.

So, if chewing flesh and watching men concuss each other during their watered-down war games don’t sate your thirst for violence, or if you prefer to believe that you don’t have such a primal and distasteful thirst but do need a serious quenching in the thrilling read department, try “The Shining Girls.”

About Chris S

Widely regarded as capable of growing a beard, Chris has been a competent cat owner for over 8 years.
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