Dead girls: They’re everywhere. Television shows like “Twin Peaks” and “True Detective” are built around them, true crime shows and books investigate their deaths, and mystery novels hunt down their killers. The American public seems to be obsessed with murdered women. In her debut essay collection, Dead Girls, Alice Bolin contemplates why popular culture is fascinated by silenced women, while also exploring literature, misogyny, graveyards, the genius and tragedy of Britney Spears and the unglamorous side of the California dream.
The dead girl of popular culture is almost always viewed as a mere catalyst for others’ growth. But her own life? Eh, not so important. The dead girl is merely a prop, and she can be cast as whatever the male protagonist desires—a mysterious nymphet, a sex fiend or an innocent schoolgirl—but she is almost always white, young and pretty. “The victim’s body is a neutral arena on which to work out male problems,” Bolin writes. What does it say about our society that we are so enthralled by male violence and dead or abused women? Nothing good.
Informed by the literature of Raymond Chandler, Joan Didion and others, as well as films, television shows and other pop culture ephemera, Bolin branches out, exploring toxic masculinity, myths of femininity and the American West, where, if media is to be believed, serial killers and neo-Nazis roam freely in the dense woods of the Pacific Northwest or disappear into isolated desert towns.
Bolin does not hesitate to inspect her own stigmas and beliefs—she’s watched her fair share of “Dateline.” Her dryly humorous, deeply researched collection is a thoughtful critique of American culture and its disparate and disturbing fixations and fears.