What if you could fix the worst parts of yourself by confronting your worst fears?Ah you guys, when I saw that premise I was so psyched! Weird dream stuff and virtual reality and tropey horror scenarios are basically EVERYTHING I AM HERE FOR. Plus it’s Mira Grant, who I’ve been wanting to try out for a while, and a novella, so affordable! Final Girls seemed like the answer to my horror-related prayers.
Dr. Jennifer Webb has invented proprietary virtual reality technology that purports to heal psychological wounds by running clients through scenarios straight out of horror movies and nightmares. In a carefully controlled environment, with a medical cocktail running through their veins, sisters might develop a bond they’ve been missing their whole lives—while running from the bogeyman through a simulated forest. But…can real change come so easily?
Esther Hoffman doubts it. Esther has spent her entire journalism career debunking pseudoscience, after phony regression therapy ruined her father’s life. She’s determined to unearth the truth about Dr. Webb’s budding company. Dr. Webb’s willing to let her, of course, for reasons of her own. What better advertisement could she get than that of a convinced skeptic? But Esther’s not the only one curious about how this technology works. Enter real-world threats just as frightening as those created in the lab. Dr. Webb and Esther are at odds, but they may also be each other’s only hope of survival.
And you know, it turned out pretty ok.
The 100% most interesting part of this story was the premise, and the way it played out here was fascinating. It’s a silly idea on its face – virtual reality horror movie dreams as therapy is right out of some ’90’s cyber-thriller – but it’s silly in a way that I’m 100% on board with because of the narrative potential, and because of the way that the book handles the ramifications of its own dubious science. The zombie-scenario gone wrong that takes up the bulk of the book is fun, but for me, mostly window-dressing; it’s the way the technology is used and described in the “real world” that give this book some viscerally horrifying moments.
That being said, I have a couple of issues. First, I kind of wish it hadn’t been zombies. Like, I realize that it was supposed to be cliche and cheesy, but I’m so bored by that particular monster, and it was so not what I thought I was signing up for with this novella, that I couldn’t help but be disappointed when I realized that that was where the scenario was going. So, you know, warning: the bulk of the action in this book is zombie-based.
Second, and more importantly, the writing. Oh god, you guys, it was grating. Like, I kept reading in spite of the writing. I kept reading because I was intrigued by the plot and the premise and the ideas, but I felt like the writing fought me every step of the way.
I think Final Girls was shooting for a flowy-er, stream-of-consciousness style to emphasize mood and atmosphere, and when it works, that kind of writing can be absolutely beautiful and affecting. But Final Girls just didn’t…quite…make it there. It was…clunky, a trainwreck of similes and metaphors, bad and abundant in a way that eventually started snapping me out of the story. It was too much!
Final Girls does utilize tenses in a way that I thought was really interesting…except when the book was pointing it out. The idea is that the story is written in past tense in the real world, present tense in the simulation, to emphasize the immersion and immediacy of the virtual experience. It’s a neat idea, and an excellent way to make the two settings easily distinguishable from one another. And yet the book insists on explaining the tense shifts, anyway. It’s fine the first time, I guess, but when we’re at the point where the confusion of the rapid tense switches is the point, we shouldn’t be stopping to explain it again!
Finally, while I thought the two primary characters, Esther and Dr. Webb, were pretty decently written and well-drawn, that fucking assassin character drove me up the wall. She was a walking cliche that spoke exclusively in cliches and was nowhere near as funny, cool, or badass as the story insisted that she was. Ugh, there were SO MANY sequences from her perspective, because she’s more or less the villain of the piece, and each one was like an ice pick being driven further and further into my brain. Ugh, she was awful. I honestly thought the book was doing a pretty good job of staying grounded, even with its silly premise, until she showed up and started talking.
I really wish the corporate espionage angle just…hadn’t been a thing. For me, it would’ve been much more interesting if shit had just gone awry without devolving into mass murder outside the simulation. It’s super cartoony, and I’m not a fan of the way it shifts the villain role entirely to the assassin character, when Jennifer was doing some pretty shady shit to begin with.
TL;DR: I still liked it overall. I liked a lot of the ideas and the way that the plot progressed and obviously its emphasis on relationships between women – even MASSIVELY UNETHICAL ONES – was nice, and that fucking ending brings it up at least a star. It’s the first thing in a long while to elicit some actual genuine horror from me.
But trying to quantify these more middling books, the question I come back to is: does this make me want to read another of this author’s books? And for this one, the answer is currently “no”. The writing was a big enough deterrent that I wouldn’t go out of my way to get another Grant novel – deffos 100% less interested in Feed – unless the premise was super intriguing.
TWO AND A HALF STARS