Ddebut novel from Tate, More brutal, begins with the disappearance of: Sammy Liu-Lou, the daughter of a famous televangelist and an enigmatic rebel with shaved hair. When her mother discovers her empty bed, one question reverberates through this fictional Florida town, “tickling” the surface of the lake that lies ominously undisturbed at its center: “Where is she?”
Somewhat angrily, Sammy will remain a mystery, since this novel is not about her, but about a group of eighth-grade girls hunched behind binoculars in their bedroom windows, watching her every move—and all the other tenants. These are Tate’s “beasts,” who together form a sardonic yet vulnerablely naïve first-person plural narrator. Sammy’s disappearance is just one diversion in what reads like a literary house of mirrors, deliberately only scratching the surface of the suspicious (and occasionally supernatural) goings-on in this theme park-adjacent swampland. As the search for the evangelical groups unfolds, the girls introduce us to a dubious group of characters, including Sammy’s best friend Mia, who, along with her mother and a man named Stone, is recruiting kids for their Star Search talent show.
While More brutal revolves around the gruesome revelations at its center, it is based on one idea: “that the stories we have told are not just stories, but creatures, both dangerous and true”. In this magical-realistic, twisted Florida fairy tale, Lynchi’s reinterpretation Suicide virgins, trauma manifests itself in the most unpredictable ways. Every girl dreams of becoming his protagonist; through glimpses into their future, we discover that the road to fame has a high price.
Previously on the long list Sunday Times short story award, Tate crosses familiar territory in the More brutal. She grew up in Orlando and her stories often focus on Florida and the fierce relationships between female friends. IN More brutal, she paints the girls’ lawn in glorious (sometimes repulsive) Technicolor—”the stench of America (microwave plastic, air freshener, hot oil),” alligators “renamed therapy dogs”—interspersed with flashes of whip-smart, bone-dry humor. In this slippery debut where much is hard to pin down, Tate makes clear the insecurities of girlhood, its growing pains, and what it means to be “born of rage.”