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Onyx reviews: Final Girls by Riley Sager

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 7/02/2017

Ever wonder what happens to the people who survive at the end of slasher movies? Riley Sager presents three scenarios for the lives these so-called Final Girls in the aftermath of such unthinkable horror.

First there was Lisa Milner, the sole survivor of a sorority house massacre that left nine others dead and Milner suffering from stab wounds. She embraced the role of Final Girl, writing a book about her experience and offering her services as a mentor to those who undergo similar tragedies.

Then, four years later there was Samantha Boyd, who survived a bloodbath at the Nightlight Inn in Florida. Sam shied away from the limelight, refusing to be photographed, granting few interviews and, finally, going completely off the grid. No one has heard from her in years.

Eight years later, nineteen-year-old Quincy Carpenter was the only one of her six friends who survived a brutal attack at the Pine Cottage, a remote cabin where they were celebrating the birthday of Quinn's college roommate, a weekend during which Quinn expected she would lose her virginity to her boyfriend. The cabin was located near an insane asylum and close to the site where an Indian tribe was massacred and where a couple of campers were murdered the previous summer. The horror movie tropes couldn't be more obvious, but this isn't a parody novel: it's dead serious.

In the decade since Quinn was attacked, she has tried to put that horrific night behind her. She doesn't want to be seen as a perpetual victim. She has a live-in boyfriend, lives in a nice Manhattan apartment (funded in part by lawsuits that followed the incident), and is a successful food blogger. Her boyfriend works for the public defender's office and his current case is sufficiently high-profile that it might be a stepping stone to a job at a big law firm.

Quinn's ability to ignore the past is aided by the fact that she has no memory of the crucial hour during which her five friends were murdered. Her dissociative amnesia is viewed by some—including the police who investigated the incident—as convenient and self-serving. They believe she knows more than she's saying, especially since her injuries were relatively minor and she recovered quickly.

Of the three Final Girls, Quinn is the only one who didn't kill her assailant, although all three killers are dead. Officer Franklin Cooper, a former Marine who served in Afghanistan, arrived on the scene after being dispatched to look for an escapee from the mental institute. He put several bullets into Jeff Hannen, the odd stranger who had showed up at the cabin and was invited to join the festivities by the birthday girl. Quinn has never uttered Hannen's name since then.

As determined as Quinn is to claim that she's fine, she clearly isn't. She pops Xanax like candy and is a kleptomaniac. Plus the fact the she has occasional blackouts during which she flies into destructive rages and has a possibly unhealthy attachment to the cop who rescued her. Quinn is very much not fine.

Something happens to Lisa Milner that dredges the old stories back up, propelling Quinn back into the the Final Girl media frenzy. Samantha Boyd emerges from seclusion and shows up outside Quincy's apartment. A tabloid journalist captures the moment and they are front page news.

Samantha is an agent of chaos, upending Quinn's carefully constructed life. In a sense, she's a parallel to Janelle, her college friend, the one who invited the asylum escapee into their cabin. None of the men in Quincy's life trust her. Sam wants to wake Quincy up from her sheltered life. She encourages her kleptomania and they go on nighttime excursions into Central Park where they bait men so they can vent their repressed rage. Mostly she wants Quinn to remember.

The incident with Lisa Milner starts Quinn on a downward spiral. She keeps secrets from everyone and begins to question everything about herself. Sager intersperses these increasingly tense and disturbing developments with flashbacks to Pine Cottage. Readers know how that evening turned out, but there are details that Quincy has never told anyone. As more is revealed, readers will wonder whether she has been telling the truth or whether she's another in a long line of unreliable narrators. The truth is more complicated than that in this well-conceived and cleverly executed debut thriller.

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