Final Girls - Book Review

Quincy Carpenter does not think of herself as a Final Girl, a name the press has given to her and two other girls who became the sole survivors of horror movie-esque massacres. After that terrible night at Pine Cottage, her memory is repressed and that is just fine with her. She’s got a successful baking blog, a loving boyfriend, and an endless Xanax prescription. But when Lisa, the first of the Final Girls, is found dead, Quincy’s world is turned upside down. The third Final Girl Samantha Boyd shows up on her door step, and soon Quincy finds herself forced to remember what happened that awful night.

Final Girls by Riley Sager is a tribute to slasher films. There is no relation to the film The Final Girls, in case you were wondering. If you’re not familiar with the genre, usually the only survivor at the end of the film is a girl, often a virgin or someone who lost her virginity shortly before the end of the movie. There’s a lot to be said about the Freudian implications of the trope, but Final Girls doesn’t really address it. Instead, the focus is largely on the mystery of what happened at Pine Cottage, and Quincy’s difficulty in acknowledging the past.

I hope you like baking, because there’s a lot of it in the book. In fact, the first half of the book is very slow. Like the slasher films this book takes it’s cues from, the protagonists are largely bland and unlikable and you wait anxiously for someone to finally be killed. Quincy is particularly bad about connecting the dots, and moping in purple prose internal monologues.  Her fiance Jeff exists solely to remind her that she’s supposed to be normal now and never deal with her trauma. Sam is the only one who is interesting, but you can tell she’s bad news because she dresses in punk fashion. I know my thrillers well enough to know that punk and goth is usually code for a weirdo or a villain, and other outdated stereotypes.

I felt also there was a fundamental issue with the idea of the media labeling the three girls as Final Girls. The world Quincy lives in must be a kinder one than we live in, because massacres are depressingly common in the US. Quincy says she cannot relate to survivors of sexual assault and other crimes, but there’s no mention of her reaching out to survivors of school shootings or misogynistic rampages. Either they don’t exist in the world, it was just not thought about. In this world, however, victims are usually forgotten or largely ignored and do not become celebrities. Many of us can list off many serial killers and mass murderers, and obsess about what drove them to murder, but rarely can we name a single victim. We deify murderers, not the people and certainly not the women that survive them.

The book picks up towards the end and to its credit, after a point I couldn’t put it down. There are twists and turns and red herrings, a few I called and a few that surprised. The way the pieces fit together with so many coincidences feels unsatisfactory, but there’s enough foreshadowing to prevent it from feeling completely cheap; it’s just too neatly tied together. Speaking of foreshadowing: flashbacks in a novel, even one that wants to be a slasher film, should be illegal. I know, author! I was there, I read it! I don’t need to read it twice!

It would be remiss not to bring up the fact that Riley Sager is the pen name of a man. “Riley Sager” seems to have been chosen, according to The Guardian at least, as a marketing ploy to be the next in the line of Gone Is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo On The Train With All The Gifts. If so, it does suck that marketing sees successful female authors in the thriller category and decided to stage this as the next one. It’s especially shameful since it is utterly unnecessary; The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo started this “Girl” thriller title trend, and it was written by a man and enjoyed success because of it. There was simply no need! I actually enjoyed Final Girls better than I did The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Which isn’t saying much, but it’s something.

While Sager is not bad at writing women, finding out that he’s a man makes some things make more sense, like the amount of baking without any talk of cleaning the huge mess baking makes, or the awkward sex talk between two female characters. There’s no Cool Girl speech here, and that’s fundamentally what marketing this book under Riley Sager misses; Flynn is partly popular because she has the perspective of a woman. It isn’t to say that men can’t write women well, or shouldn’t try. But you can’t slap an unisex name on something and hope it’ll sell out of feminist demand for female authors.

That said, if you’re a fan of slasher films, and can put up with a slow start, it won’t be a bad Halloween read. If you were looking for a sort of analysis of the final girl trope, and what it means, you are actually better off renting Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon.

Final Girls by Riley Sager was published on July 5, 2017 by Dutton and is available wherever fine books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.