Final Girls

June 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads)

girlsFinal Girls by Mira Grant

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As much as I loved the language and writing of Seanan McGuire in Every Heart a Doorway and Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, I felt like both novellas suffered for being too short. Final Girls, by the same author (oh, if you didn’t know, McGuire and Grant are the same person), has a story that fits its length. The problem here is the story feels a little clunky and weird, as if it were a half-baked idea instead of a fully-formed story.

The premise of the story is that Dr. Jennifer Webb has developed a form of virtual reality technology that she uses as her role as a psychiatrist. Her clients, usually estranged family members, go into the same virtual world together and endure living through horror stories to help reform connections that are either broken, or were never formed. They come out reconnected, though the procedure is not without controversy.

Enter Esther Hoffman, a science reporter whose father died as a result of false memories regained through regression therapy. She sees the technology as a form of that same kind of regression therapy, but Dr. Webb has requested she report on the technology, believing that if she can convince Esther, and if Esther reports that the technology is legitimate, then it will be a huge endorsement toward taking her methods public. Over the course of their initial interview, Esther is convinced to be subjected to a treatment, at which point everything goes south.

That main premise feels like a stretch to me. Grant wants to root the story in the real world, but who in the world would put together a method like this? How can subjecting someone to living through their own horror movie, one that feels so real that it rewires parts of the brain to feel love for people who despised each other before the treatment, be useful? It’s like flooding therapy taken to the extreme.

Plus, the entire thing feels impractical. How would this kind of treatment be preferable to other forms of therapy? How unsuccessful would all those other forms of therapy have to be to justify the costs of research and development of such a system? And once implemented, such a treatment would be ridiculously expensive; Who would be able to afford it?

Overlooking all those points, I had trouble believing that Esther would agree to a treatment. She’s presented as abrasively resistant to any kind of pseudoscience, but willingly puts herself into a situation where she’ll have copious amounts of drugs injected into her body, and then put into a state of sensory deprivation just to write her article. I didn’t buy it, but without her agreeing to the treatment, the rest of the story doesn’t happen.

To her credit, Grant tries to answer many of the questions I asked. The problem is I don’t feel like she answered them well. The story is well written, with relate-able characters, a decent plot, and a palpable tension, but it just doesn’t make much sense in the end.

McGuire’s other novellas were published by Tor.com Publishing, and their narrative reach matched being published at that level. Final Girls is published by Subterranean Press, and I can’t help but feel like it was published there because it was rejected by the more mainstream press. It’s still a decent read (I did give it three stars, after all), but it doesn’t have the kind of punch that the other stories did. I’m still looking for that representative Grant/McGuire story, since none of these stories seemed to be it. I like her style enough to keep reading to find it, though, so that should tell you something.

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