Megan Abbott is a masterful storyteller, her novel Beware the Woman is a book as suspenseful as it is engaging.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
“Abbott masterfully uses the pretext of a pregnant woman’s heightened senses…to build a claustrophobic atmosphere of mistrust and insecurity reminiscent of Get Out. You’re sure to get chills. An unsettling, nightmare-inducing morsel from a master of suspense.”
I generally write about the things that scare me. And my goal is always to carry the reader into and through that space of fear to other side. I want to create a feeling of crackling menace so the reader and I are sharing this intense experience together, hearing the same eerie sounds, feeling the same prickly things. I suppose it connects to the role crime novels or thrillers can play in our culture. They become ways to help us explore the forbidden, reckon with danger, exorcise our demons, trust our own instincts, confront our own darkness, maybe even deepen our understanding of ourselves and those we love.
The fear that drove Beware the Woman centered around female bodies. The fear we might lose control over our bodies, have it taken from us. At the same time, it’s also a book about the risks of love. When we meet Jacy, the narrator, she’s newly married and newly pregnant and very much in that romantic haze of new love with her husband Jed. She can’t see clearly, doesn’t want to. And that puts her very much at risk for what’s to come. There’s a line in the book—Jacy assures her mother that her speedy marriage is nothing to worry about. “After all,” she says, “I’m not marrying a stranger.” And her mother, wizened by experience, replies, “Honey, we all marry strangers.”
The songs below were all ones I played constantly while writing because they helped me keep forever in my mind: the fear that drives the story and the stakes for Jacy—not just as she finds herself in danger, but as she must face harder truths about her marriage, her husband, herself. But, most of all, these were songs that help me keep the story’s tension and anxiety alive, buzzing in my brain as I wrote, so it would hopefully buzz in the reader’s brain too. So we could go there together and come out, hand in hand.
“Norman Fucking Rockwell” and “Wild at Heart” by Lana Del Rey
No one does mood like Lana Del Rey and these two songs—the whole album, really—are like jumping into the dooms of love. ‘Cause you’re just a man, she sings. It’s just what you do/Your head in your hands/As you color me blue. They’re both romantic and haunting, dreamy and poisonous.
“Lark” and “All the Good Times” by Angel Olsen
Angel Olsen is an artist I return to for so many of my books. She too is a master of atmosphere of—dare I say it—vibe. But they are also piercingly emotional, with feelings raw and uncontrollable. She was Jacy’s voice for me as I wrote.
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters by Philip Glass
Often, I can’t listen to anything with lyrics, but when I need something gorgeous, intense and utterly transporting, this justly lauded score for Paul Schrader’s 1985 movie always does the trick.
The Piano Music of Philip Glass by Jeremy Limb
Speaking of Glass, I can’t even remember how I discovered this album, but it’s my go-to (particularly “Metamorphosis 1–5”) when I need to write highly dramatic, piercingly frightening scenes. All the scenes in the woods came out of listening to this.
“Everyone” and “Heat Lightning” by Mitski
These two Mitski songs were the heart of the night scenes in Beware the Woman. They helped me conjure that feeling of middle-of-the-night fears, dreams, danger.
“Everyone” is a song about the dangerous lure of fame, but I think it speaks to all kinds of other dangerous terrains we plunge into, choosing to ignore even our own best instincts: Everyone said, “Don’t go that way”/So, of course, to that, I said/“I think I’ll go that way”/And I left the door open to the dark/I said, “Come in, come in, whatever you are”
“Heat Lightning” is so evocative, thick with a dreamy, building dread—that I’m-awake-at-three-a.m. feeling when all your senses are so acute and all your anxieties flutter forth: Heat lightning, watch it from my doorstep/Sleeping eyelid of the sky, flutters in a dream./Well, I’ve held on but feel a storm approaching…
“Superstar” by Sonic Youth
I’ve long loved this cover of the 1969 song written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell and made most famous by Karen Carpenter. It appears on the 1994 tribute album If I Were a Carpenter and, in her recent memoir, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon wrote about how moved she was by Karen Carpenter’s story, how Carpenter had so little control over her life and career, so instead, she sought control over her body. This cover reflects all that feeling, which helped me in writing Jacy, pregnant, vulnerable, needing to summon all her strength and power.
Megan Abbott is the award-winning author of eleven novels, including New York Times bestseller The Turnout, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Give Me Your Hand, You Will Know Me, The Fever, Dare Me, and The End of Everything. She received her PhD in literature from New York University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Guardian, and The Believer. She’s the cocreator and executive producer of USA’s adaptation of Dare Me, now on Netflix, and was a staff writer on HBO’s David Simon show The Deuce. Abbott lives in New York City.