By Grady Hendrix
ALL POSTS CONTAIN SPOILERS
At this point, everyone here knows that I am a sucker for a good premise. I’m too attached to them, I know – I can’t resist them, and I am often drawn into books which are clearly going to disappoint me simply because I am charmed by their premise.
My attachment also causes me to be disproportionately enraged when I feel a good premise has been wasted in poor execution. I am much angrier at a mediocre book with a great premise than I am at an all-out bad book with a bad premise, which is completely irrational.
‘The Final Girl Support Group‘ has a great premise. Lynette, Dani, Marilyn, Julia, Heather, and Adrienne are all Final Girls: the only survivors of deranged serial killers, the terrorized young girls who finally brought them down. They meet once a month in a support group, although over the decades since their victimization, they have become tired of each other. The need for the group has diminished and some of the members are hoping to disband until one of them, Adrienne, is murdered in exactly the kind of psychotic rampage that she avoided decades earlier. When Lynette is attacked next, it becomes clear that someone is hunting down Final Girls.
OK, yeah, it’s not High Art. But bear with me here:
At this point, I think it’s time for us all to admit that horror movies are a mature genre. And as a mature genre, they can be meta-analyzed: they can be understood as metaphors, they can be explicated, meaning can be distilled from them.
Not many people want to do this work, because horror movies are considered Low Art (if they’re lucky – many people just consider them trash). But, I would argue, people should do that work, because horror movies are important. They tell us something about ourselves, and our culture: they are instructive. There is always, always information in what scares us, and there is always, always information in whom we choose to inflict violence upon, whether it is real or imagined. Horror movies reveal something about us, and it’s worth looking at what that is.
Women (especially young, beautiful women) have a special role in horror movies, and that role is what ‘The Final Girl Support Group‘ is about. Women are the victims we save for the most imaginative and sadistic violence. That is what this novel wants, I think, to explicate: the pleasure we take in watching psychos brutalize young girls.
The problem is, there are two ways to for a novel to be “about” something. Novels can explicate things, problematize them, show them to us in a new light or from a different perspective. Or they can simply reiterate the problem, sometimes while exclaiming: Look at this problem!
This latter is what ‘The Final Girl Support Group’ does. I really do think that it was intended to be a problematization of the violence against women that is a mainstay of horror stories, but it basically just ends being a horror story featuring violence against women. The violence is specific, creative, brutal: all the things which characterize the very horror movies that Hendrix intends to lampoon.
And here, I’m afraid, we need to get a little into the nature of satire. Satire is deliberate exaggeration in order to expose something. By its very nature, it requires the thing to be shown: it is ridiculing through the showing of the thing.
Therefore, it necessarily runs the risk of being the thing itself – if the exaggeration isn’t clear, if the ridicule is not expressed, then it definitionally fails at satire. And, yes, satire can “fail” because the reader is simply stupid: misses the ridicule. That happens all the time, especially when we ourselves are the targets of the satire, and it must be maddening for authors, to watch their works be un-ironically embraced by the very people they are attempting to mock.
I don’t think that I am missing the fact that ‘The Final Girl Support Group‘ is satire. I see that it is meant to be mocking – Hendrix isn’t applauding the brutalization of young women, that is clear. But I feel somehow that the satire is incomplete. Hendrix shows, clearly and excessively, the absurdity of the violence we imaginatively subject women to – he explicates the trope – but there are no conclusions. ‘Look,’ he seems to be saying, ‘This is kind of fucked up, no?’
And, yeah, it is fucked up. And maybe it’s enough to say so.
But I am experiencing the grief and frustration I always feel when a good premise has been misspent. When I first finished this book, I was pretty pissed. I had been really excited to read it – had been saving it for an un-virtuous little reading treat for myself – and I wanted better from it. I felt ready to love this book, and I was thwarted.
But my anger has cooled. In my thinking, I have been unable to pinpoint what I would change about ‘The Final Girl Support Group‘, and that has given me more respect for the difficulty of the task that Hendrix set out for himself. I feel ambivalent about this novel, but I am also absolutely certain that I couldn’t do any better. I feel, as I think Hendrix does, that there is a lesson that we should all be drawing from this particular horror trope, but I can’t explain what I think that lesson is any better than he does.
Perhaps I could not have done better with this set-up, but I think someone could have. I can’t recommend ‘The Final Girl Support Group’ – I think it was a pretty pointless read, in the end – but I’m not angry anymore.