Review by Mark Palm.
It may have started earlier, but I first became conscious of the concept of the Final Girl in the late nineteen seventies, with films like Alien and Halloween, and the spate of inferior slasher/horror films that followed. If you have not seen these films the basic idea was that after a series of terrifying murders the sole survivor was usually a woman or a girl, confounding the norms of the past. The term “Final Girl” was coined by Professor of Film Studies Carol J. Clover, who suggested(in her book) that the concept was that these films started by identifying with the killer, but switched to identifying with the women. Which still did not stop the filmmakers from killing lots of women .
Anyway, Final Girls is the story of Quincy Carpenter. As a college student she went on a vacation in the woods of Pennsylvania at Pine Cabin and ended up the sole survivor of a massacre. She escaped by running through the woods, were the attacker was killed by the cop who found her. She remembers almost nothing of the evening, although she maintains a therapeutic relationship with the officer who saved her, Coop.
When the story starts Quincy has a quiet life with her lawyer. boyfriend Jeff and her baking blog. Coop informs her that Lisa, one of the other two living “Final Girls” who survived horrific massacres and with whom Quincy had been in touch, was found dead, an apparent suicide. She also finds an email from Lisa on her phone, left only hours before her death. Not long after that the third “Final Girl”, Samantha Boyd, shoes up on Quincy’s doorstep.For years she had been off the grid, but now she wants to talk with Quincy about Lisa’s death. A reporter manages to take a picture of their first meeting and the two women find themselves back in the news. Meanwhile Quincy invites Sam to stay with her and Sam’s rough-edged ways immediately have an influence on Quincy, as the two begin drinking and shoplifting and eventually the pair begin hanging around Central Park at night, attempting to be vigilantes, leading to Quincy attacking and seriously beating a man. At the same time a reporter keeps trying to warn Quincy that Sam is not what she says she is.
This first-person narrative by Quincy in the present is mixed in with a third-person narrative of what happened on the night of the massacre at Pine Cabin. This narrative arc adds a great deal to the tension of the book because they are replete with details that Quincy has repressed because of trauma, or so it seems.
It would go against the reviewer’s code to give more away, but things are not what they seem, and many of the assumptions set up early in the book are blown up as the story progresses, and while the beginning is a bit slow by the end the action is barrelling along like a runaway train. The prose is solid and most importantly, doesn't get in the way. The same can be said for the dialogue, which has some snap and flow. Quincy and Sam catty the tory, and their characters have depth and realism; sometimes you like them, and sometimes don’t, but they are always compelling. Even more important is that both Quincy and Sam have a definite narrative arc, and Mr. Sager lets the characters and the story shape and impact each other. The rest of the characters do their jobs. Like a lot of thrillers what carries the load is the plot and the story, and both are spot on here. At the end of the day it’s all about whether or not you want to see what happens next, and Mr. Sager does an excellent job of that here. So read Final Girls. It’s a lot better than any crappy slasher flick.