Last year just before Halloween I got to devour Broken Monsters which was nothing short of stunning. The way she treated Detroit like a haunted house, a ruin of a town like the ruin of bodies the serial killer left standing in for something greater and more grisly. If you haven’t read it yet you need to. From that preamble I assume you can tell I was excited to pick up The Shining Girls.
The Shining Girls is about a time traveling serial killer but it’s mostly about vulnerable women. The girls on the edge, who seemingly put themselves in harms way because most people don’t realize that to be female is to constantly be in harms way. All of the “victims” in Beukes book are women pushing social norms, whither that means being an abortionist or a social worker, a scientist or a showgirl. The sad thing is that as I was reading I didn’t notice that motif, I just saw the type of women killed everyday because women are killed everyday. Sometimes for something as small as ignoring a cat call. Beukes intentionally wanted call attention to issues of violence against women, partially because, like most people, she knew a victim of domestic violence.
The media likes to focus on “pretty corpses” as Beukes calls them in an essay. You know what she means, the Law and Order victim of the week, a beautiful girl dead glassy eyes. The camera pans up her body, she could be a cover model except for the blood. Even in death these girls are sexy macguffins to tell us a mans story. The focus almost always on the killer not his victims and that’s the trope Beukes decided to flip. Each victim in The Shining Girls is a character study. In a chapter Beaukes makes you care about them, all the while knowing they’re going to die. You watch it coming, unable to save them. There’s nothing beautiful about how these girls die. It’s tragic, painful and horrible just like it should be. Because she every murder is from the victims point of view it’s never glorified or sexualized. You never feel the killers exhilaration just the terror of a life being cut short.
This book also captures the hopless feeling of these situations. Because with each one you get to see how close the killer is to being caught, the ways the other girls could be saved but you also know they won’t. The beauty of time travel in this story is that we know certain things have to happen. It’s the kind of foreshadowing that makes it hard to stop reading. You’re constantly putting together the peices of a disturbing masterpieace.
Beukes is also a great historian. She makes Chicago come alive at all these different destinct moments in time. They help to illustrate how far women’s rights have come and also how far we still have to go. From characters who need chaparones on dates to women who feel emopowered to kick men out when they feel objectified. There’s a lot in this book but the pace never slows. Beukes trusts her reader to be smart enough to understand everything she’s going over. She also seamlessly introduces a transwoman, the kind of woman who is sadly the most in danger. Even now transwomen are believed to have a murder rate of 1 in 12, yet the issue is largley ignored. Trans issues are pretty dear to my heart and the inclusion of this character. The fact that the writer never questioned her gender, presented her as a woman meant a lot to me. It was a level of inclusion I’m not really used to seeing and it also shows the nuance with which Beukes understands the issues she’s writing about. Which is a sadly rare trait for most authors. Like the title of her book Beaukes shines.
I want Beukes to write faster because she’s the kind of author I need another book from right now. I look forward to following her career to all the insane magically real places she wants to go.