The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. ★★★
In Chicago, a serial killer hunts through time, targeting girls from “shining girls” from different eras. Then one of his victims survives.
The Shining Girls was oddly forgettable. After reading Beukes nonfiction essay “All the Pretty Corpses,” I decided I had to read The Shining Girls. The essay burns with anger at the way media treats female murder victims as pretty dead things, not people whose lives have been cut short. In it, Beukes says she wrote The Shining Girls to be as much about the victims as the killer. Unfortunately, I found it not nearly as powerful or subversive as I think Beukes intended.
The Shining Girls is told from many different POVs, with the two most prominent being the killer, Harper, and the survivor, Kirby. Other sections contain points of view from Harper’s other victims, giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of the women Harper kills. Additionally, Dan, Kirby’s mentor at the Chicago Sun-Times, has reoccurring chapters.
But even as The Shining Girls brings in chapters from the victims perspectives, it still ends up feeling like that same story we are all familiar with, the focus being on a male serial killer brutally murdering women. While the plot of the story is nominally Kirby bringing Harper to justice, she lacks agency, driven by the plot instead of driving it. I’m not sure what effect if any her actions during the first 75% of the book have. She could have disappeared from the majority of the story, and the result would have been the same.
I also question the decision to make Kirby the survivor. All of Harper’s victims are women existing within our sexist society, but there are intersections within the category “women.” The women who die are black, Asian, gay, and trans. The woman who lives is straight, white and cis. This pattern is entirely predictable and plays into problematic trends about who gets to be a heroine.
On the bright side, the pacing is appropriately fast for a thriller. I ended up reading the entirety of The Shining Girls in one day. Beukes also has a gift for describing the historical settings and how Chicago changes through the decades. It’s clear that a lot of research went into this area.
However, The Shining Girls is not a book I will ever reread. The time traveling feels like a plot gimmick, the romance is completely unnecessary, and the story is not nearly as subversive as it thinks it is. At this point, I’ve tried two of Lauren Beukes books and a collection of her short stories. None really impressed me, and I don’t think I’ll be seeking out any of her work.