Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

The Vault that would Change Their Lives

Megan Abbott’s latest novel mines gymnastics to menacing effect

Megan Abbott’s new psychological suspense novel, You Will Know Me, opens to a party drifting tipsily into the night: parents drinking, sneaking cigarettes, and dancing with each other’s spouses; teenage girls sipping their first rum punch and gossiping; and grade-schoolers stuffing themselves on frozen bananas and video games. They are gathered to celebrate teen gymnast Devon Knox and her first regional championship. Devon’s mother, Katie, “would come to think of that night as the key to everything that came after, the secret code. But at the time, it was just another party, a celebration like dozens of others, all to honor their exceptional fifteen-year-old daughter.”

megan-abbott-421-002A few months later, one of the party-goers is killed in a hit-and-run accident while walking alone at night under ambiguous circumstances, a tragedy that causes Katie’s sense of normalcy to peel away in layers. “If she ever had to talk about it, which she never would, Katie would have to go back, back years before it happened,” Abbott writes. “Back before Devon was born, when there were only two Knoxes, neither of whom knew a tuck from a salto or what you called that glossy egg-shaped platform in the center of the room, the vault that would change their lives.”

Freewheeling party girl Katie first met handsome Eric when she sold him cotton candy at the Kiwanis fair sixteen years earlier. Within a few months she was pregnant with Devon and hastily—but happily—married. A few years later, Drew came along. A serious and uncomplaining boy, Drew spends hours a day with his mother in the bleachers at Devon’s gymnastics practice. The Knoxes’ days are a fuzz of highly choreographed bustle, Devon’s extraordinary talent the sun of her family’s frenetic solar system.

Katie believes Devon’s career as an Olympic-track gymnast was portended in utero: “Kicking with such vigor that, one night, Katie woke to a popping sound and, breathless, keeled over in pain. Eric stared helplessly as her stomach seemed to spasm with alien horrors. What was inside her? they wondered, her rib poking over her sternum, dislocated while she slept. It was no alien, but it was something extraordinary. It was Devon, a marvel, a girl wonder, a prodigy, a star. Devon, kicking her way out. Out, out, out. And they had made her. And, in some ways, she had made them.”

abbott_youwillknowmeDevon is a member of BelStars gym; under the guidance of the vaunted Teddy Belfour, or Coach T, the gym’s profile and fortunes have risen with Devon’s. The BelStars boosters, a self-contained social scene, are friends and neighbors brought together by the promise of their children’s athletic potential. Because the gym’s success is largely tied to Devon’s achievements, she is in many ways the center of their worlds, as well. The hit-and-run accident creates a grave disruption in their lives, and Katie is thrust into the role of unwilling investigator. What do the strange circumstances of the accident have to do with her family? Much more than she is comfortable with, it turns out. And it becomes increasingly clear that Katie doesn’t know her own daughter—the inscrutable Devon, competition nickname “Ice Eyes”—nearly as well as she thought she did.

You Will Know Me is deliciously creepy in continuously surprising ways. Abbott has a knack for booby-trapping every page with off-putting details that only begin to make sense as more details are revealed. Katie is an unreliable narrator, both too busy and too naïve to probe the darker corners of her family’s lives until the accident knocks them all out of whack. The subtle teasing out of relevant backstory and real-time clues is masterful—the impossible-to-put-down suspense is Abbott at the top of her game.

And the setting—the world of elite youth gymnastics and the off-kilter social and family dynamics it engenders—provides Abbott ample opportunity to explore compelling questions about marriage, parenthood, youth sports, ambition, obsession, and more, and all without losing focus on her urgent narrative.

Through it all, Devon vibrates on her own frequency, one of preternatural focus coupled with a sense of destiny. Watching her perform, Katie is reminded of “that line in that poem, the one she’d read in school, a lifetime ago. Back when life felt so cramped and small, when she never thought anything so grand could ever happen. The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” The intensity of the mystery that Abbott creates and unpacks in the world of competitive gymnastics flowers to the last pages.

Tagged: ,