To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Riley Sager’s ‘Final Girls’ pleases with thrills and drama

Quincy Carpenter doesn’t like being called a Final Girl. Sure, she was the sole survivor of the Pine Cottage Murders that killed her five best friends, but that’s ten years behind her. Now, she’s a successful baking blogger. Now, she and her public defender boyfriend live in a comfy Manhattan apartment. Now, she’s healed.

Or so she tells herself.

When the news breaks that Lisa Milner, the first of the other two living Final Girls, females who have survived gruesome and headline-worthy massacres, is found dead in her bathtub, the cracks in Quincy’s charming life start to show. Fear that her own attacker (or someone worse) is still out in the world washes over her. Then, as the second Final Girl, Samantha Boyd shows up on her doorstep and starts prodding for information, the weight of Quincy’s repressed memories crashes onto her, and there’s only so much her Xanax addiction can do to keep her from losing control.

Riley Sager’s “Final Girls” is a thrilling and intricately constructed web of blurred truths and unclear intentions, leaving the reader guessing who the real danger is until the very end. Who can our heroine trust: the press? The police? Her new friend, Sam, who is determined to rehash the horrors of that night?

We watch Quincy’s walls of safety and understanding collapse around her as she tries to make sense of Lisa’s death and Sam’s arrival, a task made even more difficult by the fact that she’s still grappling to find a secure sense of self.

Peppered throughout the storyline are snapshots of what happened the night of the Pine Cottage Murders, inviting the reader into a night Quincy swears she can’t remember. The novel begins by placing us within what Quincy believes to be her one memory of the event: racing through the woods after she has escaped her attacker, only to collapse into the arms of a police officer. Quincy is blood-soaked and terrified. From here, the story is largely a matter of unraveling the preceding events. But with every new and nerve-wracking flashback, we discover that what we expected the night to look like is nothing close to the truth.

Sager knows how to craft a complex story, but while his characters are likewise thoroughly developed, their personas are overdone. Quincy’s wholesomeness plays as saccharine (does she truly believe in the science of baking and its therapeutic properties so much that it was necessary to gush about them for multiple pages?). And even as she transitions into the Good Girl who could be a Bad Girl, who maybe is a Bad Girl, Sam is an overwhelming cliché of the latter. She calls Quincy “babe” one too many times for it to still be cheeky, and her twilight Central Park hunt for trouble comes across as forced. Quincy and Sam’s polar personalities prove to be critical for the plot’s development, but the stereotypical fashion in which Sager designs them diminishes their depth as characters.

Despite the darkness and deceit, the novel maintains a sense of fun and combined with those edge-of-your-seat thrills, it was the perfect combination for an addicting summer read.

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