One thing many contemporary commercial thrillers have in common: Great premises, gangbuster openings ... and weak finishes.
There's a scene in LAST WOMAN STANDING in which Dana Diaz, the novel's struggling standup-comic point-of-view character, is delivering a strong set during a prestigious comedy competition. Strong, that is, until she spots the face of the one of the judges, the face of a man who sexually assaulted her during a failed attempt to establish herself in L.A. Dana chokes, understandably, and she finishes weakly. But overall, her set was strong enough to advance her to the competition's finals.
LAST WOMAN STANDING is like that. Amy Gentry comes up with a killer twist on an old conceit when Dana meets Amanda, who was in the show's audience: I'll get the men who did you wrong, and you do the same for me. A timeless idea rendered especially timely in our moment of #metoo reckoning. Dana, who isn't a bad person, is outraged by a system that rewards bad men and minimizes her, and that ambition to walk over their bodies — metaphorically and maybe otherwise — blinds her to the context missing in Amanda's delicious proposal. The next thing Dana knows, she's in over her head and controlled by a tech-savvy sociopath whose victimization stories may not be what they first seemed. And when damaging the careers of bad men somehow morphs into more deadly punishment, Dana runs back into the arms of her childhood unrequited love, Jason, an insecure, moderately talented grinder on the edges of the LA comedy scene — a man with, possibly, his own dark and deadly side.
Great stuff, rendered in slickly efficient prose that keeps the pages turning. Amanda is truly terrifying, and Jason may not be the safe harbor Dana needs from the relentlessness of a fellow woman's fury. I almost couldn't finish because my stomach was knotted so tight in fearful anticipation of what Amanda might do next — and how horrific the consequences of her actions might be.
But what happens in the third act is confusing and perplexing, and it's because the characters stop behaving according to their established logic. More I cannot say without giving away spoilers, but I felt LAST WOMAN STANDING does what many other thrillers of the day do — plot themselves into a corner and work their way out of it in a sustained spasm of shrieky, speechy Grand Guignol violence that suspends a reader's suspension of disbelief.
That said, I recommend LAST WOMAN STANDING. Its premise is so strong, its authority over the city of Austin and the culture of standup comedy so assured, its prose so confident, its sociological insights so piercing, that you'll put up with the five-car-plotting pileup at the story's finish. Lines like "I'd never been good at being friends with women. I couldn't get the hang of the transactional nature of female friendship — you give me this secret, in return I share my deepest insecurity. Rinse and repeat" offer a level of sociological insight that lifts the novel above its surface appeal. I also particularly liked the description of the more established comic who felt cheerfully free to violate Dana: He carried "the unanswerable authority of someone who could take a joke, who was, in fact, in charge of deciding what constituted a joke in the first place." As a man who's felt imbued in his past with that precise authority by virtue of my gender assignment, I cringed in recognition of that horrific power dynamic.
The bottom line: Amy Gentry, and LAST WOMAN STANDING, have what it takes to advance to the thriller finals. Even with a less-than-perfect set.
- Audio CD
- Publisher: Brilliance Audio; Unabridged edition (15 January 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1522650512
- ISBN-13: 978-1522650515
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.3 x 17.1 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 77.1 g
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