As I mentioned yesterday, I’m dipping my toes back into the world of fiction, and after seeing You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott floating around on other reading lists, I thought I’d give it a stab. I recently watched 30 for 30: The Price of Gold, which chronicles the attack on Nancy Kerrigan through the ever so unreliable voice of modern day Tonya Harding, so I suppose I was already in the mood for the underbelly of women’s individual competitive sports. You Will Know Me takes us into the Knox family, whose life revolves around 15 year old Devon’s pursuit of an elite gymnastics title, and implied step on her ultimate goal to make it onto the Olympics gymnastic team.
Devon is a natural born gymnast, though she is somewhat of a tragic heroine in that she lost two of her toes to an accident involving a lawn mower as a toddler. Her disfigured foot is both a source of embarrassment for her, and atonement for her parents. She slips into the mower under her father, Eric’s, watch. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her foot in terms of the overall story. Was the accident the catalyst for her physical prowess? In learning how to reuse her mangled foot did she unleash this other potential as a gymnast? Is her foot the thing her parents are constantly trying to compensate for in their complete devotion and sacrifice to her gymnastics career? Devon’s foot was never enough of an issue for it to be at the forefront of her success, or failure, and on many levels it seemed an unnecessary part of the story. Even if you imagine it as the thing that created her parents’ hyper devotion to her, as the story unfolds it seems as though a deeper truth is revealed. Devon, as it turns out, was a surprise to her then teenage parents, Eric and Katie, so it’s really Devon’s existence itself that created an instant familial glue and, one imagines, somewhat of an instant marriage.
The crux of the novel, however, is not Devon’s rise to elite status, but the mysterious murder of gym handyman Ryan, who is peripherally tied to this very cloistered world of gymnastics. Ryan is killed in a hit and run while walking on the side of the road. His reasons for being at this particular location during the night are also suspect. Ryan is the boyfriend of Coach T.’s niece Hailey, Coach T. being Devon’s coach, and Hailey an assistant, so no one in this story escapes the gym entirely. Ryan is coveted by all the girls, and their mothers alike, as being somewhat of an Adonis, much to the dismay of Hailey, though we know little of him otherwise.
You Will Know Me is somewhat predictable, as the pool of possible subjects is very small, and, like her foot, Devon keeps herself hidden. We don’t really know her and we don’t get any insight into what motivates her, except that possibly she has no concept of her gymnastics life as something of her own at all. Her career has become a livelihood for her parents, for her coach, for the gym and its boosters, who all stand to gain financially if she rises to elite stardom and becomes an instant claim to fame. In acknowledging that she may not have entirely consented to her athletic life, it’s not a stretch to imagine that at some point she’d either want a way out, or would have at least a few fleeting moments of being a “normal” teenage girl, though not entirely “normal” as a side effect of her life long training is the delayed onset of puberty. She is both propelled and hindered by her underdeveloped body.
There are a lot of other side stories that help You Will Know Me keep chugging along, namely the somewhat salacious world of the gym’s booster moms. There is a sexual undercurrent to almost every interaction between Eric, Devon’s father, and these women, specifically their most fierce and involved, Gwen. Eric’s recurring comments about sex ruining everything are, of course, a reference to his own life and marriage, and yet it’s easy to imagine him securing Devon’s resources at the gym by blurring this sexual line with someone like Gwen. But at the end of the day, everyone seems oddly motivated to push Devon to the top at any cost, as the title of the book forcefully suggests.
The only question that lingered about You Will Know Me is why the story is told from the perspective of Katie, Devon’s mother, though perhaps it is because she knows her the least, so we have to learn Devon through her as she also tries to know her daughter. She watched Devon’s lawn mower accident from inside, and ultimately it was Eric who was responsible, so the accident becomes the initial event that makes her daughter foreign to her, or rather creates Eric’s ultimate devotion to her. It is also Katie that has the most access to Drew, Devon’s brother. I haven’t talked much about Drew, but he is an essential catalyst to the story, and perhaps the character I felt most warmly about. His innocence and stoicism are a needed contrast to the untoward world around him.
Even though I did deem You Will Know Me calculable, I still didn’t want to put it down. It’s definitely a great read for the beach or the airport, when you just need to get lost for awhile.
Liked it, glad I read it. Nothing too earth shattering. Throw it in your beach bag with your wine coolers.