Vicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer
Bloomsbury USA, 2012, 320 pages
Vicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer came into my life as a result of looking for books that take places at women’s colleges. In my attempt to find such novels for the purpose of writing one of my own, I’ve been severely disappointed at the lack of them. I can’t say I’m really all that surprised about it, though. I came upon Vicious Little Darlings and felt optimistic about it — after all, it had been written by an alumna of a women’s college, so she had to know what she was talking about.
The disappointment continued. The title pretty much sums up everything as simply as possible. Easer’s depiction of women — and of vaguely-identified lesbian, bisexual, and asexual women in particular — is almost hateful. Let me set the scene for you. We begin with Sarah, who, living with her grandmother is sent to a women’s college across the country due to her boy-crazy lifestyle. Sarah, the first-person narrator, spends a good deal of the book slut-shaming herself while simultaneously criticizing the lack of boys at her school and desperately pursuing any opportunity to meet boys. But, okay — humans have conflicting and complicated feelings and, while I disagreed with Sarah on her attitude, I held out hope that through her narrative, she would come to a change in the end, having learned empowerment.
No such luck. Sarah talks about feminism as a sort of disease one contracts while attending a women’s college. Yikes. This kind of talk is especially prevalent toward the beginning of the book, but persists throughout, even when she starts to recognize some of her own actions as feminist (debatable, I think). It’s at this point she considers herself maybe-infected and she’s disturbed about it. Another yikes.
Anyway, Sarah makes friends — sort of — with the strange and lying Maddy and the off-putting Agnes. Despite Maddy’s lies, Agnes is obsessed with Maddy and they have this really odd friendship going on that makes Sarah uncomfortable. The three decide, however, to rent a home to live in off-campus and drama ensues.
Through much of this book, I was waiting for some kind of supernatural element to appear — it never did. It felt like it should, given the generally oddness of the entire novel and the tension that never felt real, but there was nothing. Despite the odd tension, the book moves very slowly with little action until the final few chapters, where everything happens all at once and oh-god-make-it-stop-it’s-too-fast-what-just-happened goes down. And, too, despite the drama of these last moments (melodramatic, even, like a lot of the prose), the direction of the main plot wasn’t strong enough for me to get a grasp on. It wasn’t until the very end that I understood how things had led to other things. In some novels, this works incredibly well; not so much, in this one.
The novel’s events are ridiculous — some of them I couldn’t help but share in a live-blog fashion through Facebook. It was just too much. As they say, I couldn’t even.
For all her anti-feminism and slut-shaming, Sarah is, compared to Maddy and Agnes, pretty normal. She’s fairly believable as a character, though she takes on the I’m-really-good-at-drawing trope like the millions of other young adult protagonists. She’s manipulated by both Maddy and Agnes as humans are wont to do, so I don’t find the manipulation and, frankly, abuse unbelievable — but Maddy and Agnes? I think I half-expected to find out they were figments of Sarah’s imagination. No such luck. The most glaring personality trait I found was Agnes’s style of speaking. It’s tight, it’s lofty, and it’s completely unlike anything I’ve ever heard come out of the mouth of a teenager or twenty-something in earnest. I can handle some of this in light doses when it’s intended to convey the personality of a character, but the heavy-handedness of it made it to unrealistic. Maddy, meanwhile, could perhaps be explained by a psychological disorder, but I still found much of her character to be unbelievable.
Truth be told, none of the characters had likable personalities. This wasn’t the horrible kind of character you like, either (you know, the ones you shouldn’t sympathize with, but do, anyway? Loki? Kylo Ren? Pretty much the whole cast of The Secret History?) Make of that what you will, but I found it disheartening especially when the women I knew at my women’s college will full of heart and bravery while being so kind and thoughtful.
If you’re looking at this story for lessons, the one I come away with is, “See?! This is what happens when you have an environment of all women! Chaos! Violence! The collapse of society as we know it!” It’s silly and ridiculous and, honestly, kind of offensive. I had sincerely hoped that as an insider to women’s institutions, Easer would flip the tables on her anti-feminist character in a way that wasn’t a cliche or an attack on the values so many women’s institutions hold. I was severely disappointed.
I can’t, in good faith, recommend this book, even my own feelings about equality and such aside. I so wanted this to work out, but with a lack of direction, characters I can’t believe, and a plot I can’t make much out of, I leave Vicious Little Darlings with one heart.
❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤