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Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession

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A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women. In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didi A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women. In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story. From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate. Sharp, incisive, and revelatory, Dead Girls is a much-needed dialogue on women’s role in the media and in our culture.


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A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women. In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didi A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women. In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story. From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate. Sharp, incisive, and revelatory, Dead Girls is a much-needed dialogue on women’s role in the media and in our culture.

30 review for Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession

  1. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Let’s call this one two and a half stars. Alice Bolin is smart and talented--I can say that confidently--but she’s doing too much at one time. How she landed on the title is completely beyond me, because the Dead Girls to which she is referring are mentioned only sparingly. A better title for this book would be “I Moved to L.A. and it Made Me Sad,” with the subtitle “Can I mention every one of Joan Didion’s published works in 250 pages?” And that's not to say that I WOULDN'T want to read that bo Let’s call this one two and a half stars. Alice Bolin is smart and talented--I can say that confidently--but she’s doing too much at one time. How she landed on the title is completely beyond me, because the Dead Girls to which she is referring are mentioned only sparingly. A better title for this book would be “I Moved to L.A. and it Made Me Sad,” with the subtitle “Can I mention every one of Joan Didion’s published works in 250 pages?” And that's not to say that I WOULDN'T want to read that book. In fact I know I WOULD want to! It's just not what I thought I was signing up for this time. Alice makes some interesting cultural commentary, but it drowns in meandering memoir and I can't help but feel misled.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Mispackaged and mismarketed, Dead Girls is at its most interesting when author Alice Bolin strays from her essay collection's ostensible theme. The pieces on representations of white girlhood and womanhood in popular culture stand out as highlights, from Bolin's analysis of Britney Spears's music videos to her discussion of MTV reality shows. By contrast, the essays on the trope of the so-called Dead Girl are intellectually lazy, in that the author raises several promising claims but fails to de Mispackaged and mismarketed, Dead Girls is at its most interesting when author Alice Bolin strays from her essay collection's ostensible theme. The pieces on representations of white girlhood and womanhood in popular culture stand out as highlights, from Bolin's analysis of Britney Spears's music videos to her discussion of MTV reality shows. By contrast, the essays on the trope of the so-called Dead Girl are intellectually lazy, in that the author raises several promising claims but fails to develop or nuance them over the course of each essay. Several essays focus on the author's move to Los Angeles, leaving one wondering why the publisher did not center the book's marketing on life in the city.

  3. 5 out of 5

    I cannot believe I'm only giving this two stars. How is that even possible?! I was so sure this would be one of my top reads of 2018. I felt like I read a different book than what was advertised though. I wanted to read Dead Girls based off the part of its blurb that said: "From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are u I cannot believe I'm only giving this two stars. How is that even possible?! I was so sure this would be one of my top reads of 2018. I felt like I read a different book than what was advertised though. I wanted to read Dead Girls based off the part of its blurb that said: "From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story." Unfortunately, only about 25% of the book is actually about that. And that's being generous. The other three quarters of the book is about the author's experience of moving to Los Angeles, her various LA roommates, and her love for Joan Didion. Seriously, this woman loves Joan Didion. I knew she'd be mentioned somewhere from the book's summary, but I didn't imagine she, as well as her essays and writings and opinions, would be mentioned so frequently throughout the entire book. At one point, in one chapter in particular, I couldn't find a single word about the 'widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story', but you can bet that every other page - every other page! - mentioned or quoted Joan Didion. I will say that the small instances of passages discussing the Dead Girl subject were absolutely on point and extremely interesting. But it just wasn't enough. I wish I could've cared about the author's personal life, but I didn't sign up for a memoir. If you're wanting to read this for the same reason I did, I feel like you'll be terribly disappointed with what you actually get, like I was.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Autumn

    Even though this book didn’t examine the dead girl trope as much as I wanted it to, it’s still an incredible examination of the forces that create an environment that allows the dead girl trope to thrive. She also looks at the ways white women and white feminism are both trapped by, perpetuators, and by-products of the male gaze. Honestly, it’s one of the most critically interrogative essay collections I’ve read in a while. She even points out and examines the inherent problems of the personal e Even though this book didn’t examine the dead girl trope as much as I wanted it to, it’s still an incredible examination of the forces that create an environment that allows the dead girl trope to thrive. She also looks at the ways white women and white feminism are both trapped by, perpetuators, and by-products of the male gaze. Honestly, it’s one of the most critically interrogative essay collections I’ve read in a while. She even points out and examines the inherent problems of the personal essay. I’ll definitely be re-reading this one and marking it up as I go.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lotte

    3.5/5. Alice Bolin is undoubtedly a very talented literary critic and writer and I enjoyed reading this overall, but I can’t help but feel misled by the marketing of this book. The subtitle and blurb promise a thorough exploration of the Dead Girl trope so prevalent in (pop) culture, but only a couple of essays actually focus on this. Most of the other texts are about Los Angeles and depictions of L.A. (and the lifestyle it suggests) in literature (most predominantly, Joan Didion’s writing – she 3.5/5. Alice Bolin is undoubtedly a very talented literary critic and writer and I enjoyed reading this overall, but I can’t help but feel misled by the marketing of this book. The subtitle and blurb promise a thorough exploration of the Dead Girl trope so prevalent in (pop) culture, but only a couple of essays actually focus on this. Most of the other texts are about Los Angeles and depictions of L.A. (and the lifestyle it suggests) in literature (most predominantly, Joan Didion’s writing – she mentions Joan Didion a lot). Some essays also focus on literary and cultural representations of teenage girlhood, and these were definitely my favourites (for example, there's a chapter that talks about one of my favourite books, We Have Always Lived in the Castle). Ultimately however, this book uses the same marketing it tries to critique (using the eponymous Dead Girl to lure in readers), which Bolin seems to be aware of because she mentions it in the beginning, but which I still feel a bit cheated by. I’d recommend this essay collection, because it made me question and reconsider aspects of American culture I had never even thought of to question before, but beware that what you see isn’t exactly what you get.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    The blurb on the back of the book explains that the book will take you through dead women in fiction and the larger problems of living women. And I suppose it does, kind of, do that, starting by dipping its toes in the waters of “Dead Girl Shows” like True Detective and Twin Peaks, then devolving into dissections of books, movies, and songs where women have some sort of troubling presence--all loosely tied to the writer’s life/background--then devolving into anecdotes of the writer’s loneliness The blurb on the back of the book explains that the book will take you through dead women in fiction and the larger problems of living women. And I suppose it does, kind of, do that, starting by dipping its toes in the waters of “Dead Girl Shows” like True Detective and Twin Peaks, then devolving into dissections of books, movies, and songs where women have some sort of troubling presence--all loosely tied to the writer’s life/background--then devolving into anecdotes of the writer’s loneliness in LA. But, to be honest, I didn’t actually get anything enlightening about abused/killed/disenfranchised women out of these essays, as the blurb intimates I would. There were some interesting correlations, some interesting anecdotes. But when I closed the book at the end, I basically felt like I had just read a disjointed collection of women’s studies term papers rather than a “Sharp, incisive, and revelatory...much-needed dialogue on the woman’s role in the media and our culture.”

  7. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    This isn’t quite the meditation on dead girls and women as a particular obsession of our culture that I wanted. There are a handful of essays that touch on it, but this is mostly the navel-gazing of a privileged white girl who read too much Joan Didion, moved to Los Angeles on a whim, and how it made her Very Sad.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    The essays on the female body in American film, literature and television, or “The Dead Girl”, were very insightful. As someone who often analyzes (too much according to more than one annoyed friend) the images and words that flicker in front of my eyes, I had never really thought about what the author writes here about why the “dead girl” plot device is so popular. She argues that it is because it becomes a tableau for predominately men to work out their own issues: “There can be no redemption The essays on the female body in American film, literature and television, or “The Dead Girl”, were very insightful. As someone who often analyzes (too much according to more than one annoyed friend) the images and words that flicker in front of my eyes, I had never really thought about what the author writes here about why the “dead girl” plot device is so popular. She argues that it is because it becomes a tableau for predominately men to work out their own issues: “There can be no redemption for the Dead Girl, but it is available to the person who is solving her murder. Just as for the murderers, for the detectives in True Detective and Twin Peaks, the victim’s body is a neutral arena on which to work out male problems….Clearly Dead Girls help us work out our complicated feelings about the privileged status of white women in our culture. The paradox of the perfect victim, effacing the deaths of leagues of nonwhite or poor or ugly or disabled or immigrant or drug-addicted or gay or trans victims, encapsulates the combination of worshipful covetousness and violent rage that drives the Dead Girl Show.” I don’t agree with all of her argument here, however she makes her point quite eloquently and does raise some disturbing issues as to why this trope has the popularity it does. I would have in fact liked her to explore this concept further however the other essays meander a bit into areas that I personally didn’t find particularly interesting. A good part of the book is taken up with her analyzing Joan Didion’s essays about Los Angeles as the author intersperses her own stories go moving from Idaho, Nebraska and Los Angeles. After a certain amount of time, the writing about Didion feels like a bridge the author uses to talk about her own relationships and experiences in Los Angeles. In and of itself there is nothing wrong with that, but when your experiences revolve around a string of meaningless relationships (its telling or perhaps intentional that she identifies them only by their first initials) being broke, or how proud you are to have never been in an Ikea when your friends take you there, you start to wonder how we got so far away from the dead girls. By the time she gloats about how her friend taught her to steal bags of coffee from her job, I had pretty much ceased having sympathy or any positive feelings about her at all. Narcissism and amorality will usually have that effect on me. To sum up, there is some very strong and interesting writing to be found here in the book’s initial essays. However the further away we get from the premise of the book and into the author’s vanity, the book suffers.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I thought this would be a convicting critique of a genre I really like, but the real reasons I had to stop reading was: a.) she appeared to have watched/read at least two of the subjects she was critiquing maybe one time and her analysis shows it. She talks about Twin Peaks’ typical centering of the male narrative and she’s totally right. But she didn’t bring in the panned, unpopular film follow-up Fire Walk with Me, which tells the story of Laura Palmer’s death entirely from her POV. The fact t I thought this would be a convicting critique of a genre I really like, but the real reasons I had to stop reading was: a.) she appeared to have watched/read at least two of the subjects she was critiquing maybe one time and her analysis shows it. She talks about Twin Peaks’ typical centering of the male narrative and she’s totally right. But she didn’t bring in the panned, unpopular film follow-up Fire Walk with Me, which tells the story of Laura Palmer’s death entirely from her POV. The fact that she completely disregarded this piece makes her complicit in her own criticism—why even talk about an attempt to reframe a male centric narrative? Why did nobody want to see that? What were the shortcomings of a man’s attempt to tell a story from the “dead girl” viewpoint? What a waste. Also she writes a fiveish page essay about how The Big Lebowski is kinda like a Raymond Chandler book and she quotes ITS WIKIPEDIA PAGE. She can’t even be bothered to click the reference link at the bottom of the page to see the original interview source of the quote she uses. What kind of advance did she get for this amateurish “research?” b.) She used a quote from Christopher Hitchens, a notorious misogynist, to criticize the professed feminism of Stieg Larsson. Couldn’t have found a better critique from, oh I don’t know, a lower profile woman scholar who doesn’t reveal your antiquated cultural snobbery? c.) She outs her dad as “autistic” after a very long and uncomfortable essay where she calls him “manic pixie dream dad.” She does this after telling the reader that her father is not interested or served well by discussing his diagnosis. She uses his love and defense of Swedish crime novels as a way of proving he is non-neurotypical. I see no indication that he consented to having this information shared—quite the opposite. Normally I prefer to show authors some grace, but I read almost half this book before calling it. The feminist critiques were glaringly obvious to any woman who enjoys the genre, and that says to me that she’s writing it not for us, but for women who want to feel superior to us. I’m also genuinely offended by that essay about her dad. Disgusting.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bekki

    i don't understand how she ended up with the title of this book. i'd say about 40 pages are dedicated to the american obsession of the "dead girl" trope and then the rest segues into bolin's self indulgent memoir that truly has no direction. she writes about her father, then her move to LA, her boring white girl problems, AND THEN throws in basically every piece joan didion has every written, seeming to idolize her, then drags her for being classist, which actually made me laugh out loud because i don't understand how she ended up with the title of this book. i'd say about 40 pages are dedicated to the american obsession of the "dead girl" trope and then the rest segues into bolin's self indulgent memoir that truly has no direction. she writes about her father, then her move to LA, her boring white girl problems, AND THEN throws in basically every piece joan didion has every written, seeming to idolize her, then drags her for being classist, which actually made me laugh out loud because this woman truly has some spectacular blinders on it she thinks she is better than joan. not to say a criticism of joan has no merit, but seriously, the irony. this book is 20% dead girls (if that), 50% dull memoir, 20% joan didion musings, and 10% "throwing in some POC writers so i don't seem racist."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kazen

    I have mixed feelings about Dead Girls - it starts amazing but sadly I had trouble getting all the way to the end. I do want to be clear - the first part, about the titular women American culture obsesses over, is incredible. Bolin talks about "Dead Girl Shows" that use the memory of women-who-were to tell stories about the men who killed them or seek to revenge their deaths. Instead of looking at the impulse some men have to prey on young women the narrative of these shows concentrates on the ki I have mixed feelings about Dead Girls - it starts amazing but sadly I had trouble getting all the way to the end. I do want to be clear - the first part, about the titular women American culture obsesses over, is incredible. Bolin talks about "Dead Girl Shows" that use the memory of women-who-were to tell stories about the men who killed them or seek to revenge their deaths. Instead of looking at the impulse some men have to prey on young women the narrative of these shows concentrates on the killer's psychology and methods, making the practice seem inevitable and beyond the man's control. I highlighted many, many passages from this section and will be revisiting the essays so I can chew over them more. That's only part one of four, though. The second section takes a step away and examines women who are living but have been used to sell a story in a related way. I like Lonely Heart, about the contradictions and tragedy in Britney Spears' fame, but otherwise my interest started to wane. If the book were a tire that's where the slow leak started, with a more steady whooosh becoming apparent over the last two parts. Bolin gets deep into her experience of being lonely after moving to the West coast and I couldn't get on board. It's an amalgamation of things I have a hard time caring about or connecting with (LA, Joan Didion, accounts of roommates and boyfriends) with books that we are assumed to know but oftentimes I did not. If you love so-called "Hello to All That/Goodbye to All That" essays, worship Didion, and don't mind a jumble of thought, you'll do better here than I. It's hard for me to rate Dead Girls because it went from a compulsively readable, fascinating ride to a flat tire I had trouble rolling over the finish line. I thought it would be a great fit for my Serial Killer Summer but sadly only the first quarter or so fit the bill. Thanks to William Morrow and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Renner

    I enjoyed reading this book. Bolin is great at personal essays and cultural criticism. She left some questions unanswered though. My review for Broadly digs into that: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/articl...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    This is a frustrating book. It really is. IN the beginning, as the title suggest, it is a look at the use of the dead girl in various media. But the bulk of the book are personal essays, mostly about California, that are somewhat interesting, but not all that interesting. In short, you wish it had more media driven and less personal. Her reading of Joan Didion is sound, but if the book is being marketed about the use of Dead girls in the media, there should be more about the dead girls in the me This is a frustrating book. It really is. IN the beginning, as the title suggest, it is a look at the use of the dead girl in various media. But the bulk of the book are personal essays, mostly about California, that are somewhat interesting, but not all that interesting. In short, you wish it had more media driven and less personal. Her reading of Joan Didion is sound, but if the book is being marketed about the use of Dead girls in the media, there should be more about the dead girls in the media. Joan Didion should be in another book or at the very least, rename the collection. The best part of the book is Bolin’s look at Gone Girl. Her dealing with Nordic Noir is good, but one does wonder why Liza Marklund is not mentioned. And when she discusses True Detective and Twin Peaks, one wonders why shows such as Criminal Minds are conveniently ignored. And then she keeps writing about her time in CA, which is fine, but not really what the title suggests.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Claudia Cortese

    This is the best essay collection I have read in years. It's true, as others have noted, that the dead girl trope is addressed most directly in the first few essays, but the trope threads throughout the entire collection. The reader will think that they are reading an essay about Britney Spears, and there the dead girl is. Or the reader will think that they are reading an essay about Los Angeles, or Joan Didion, or female friendships, or reality TV, and there the dead girl is again. I love how d This is the best essay collection I have read in years. It's true, as others have noted, that the dead girl trope is addressed most directly in the first few essays, but the trope threads throughout the entire collection. The reader will think that they are reading an essay about Britney Spears, and there the dead girl is. Or the reader will think that they are reading an essay about Los Angeles, or Joan Didion, or female friendships, or reality TV, and there the dead girl is again. I love how discursive these essays are. They wander. They meander. They move. In other words, they are alive. Bolin weaves meticulous research with her own personal experiences; the essays move between her own life and the larger issues the book explores. These essays are deeply intelligent, deeply feminist. Bolin's sentences wowed me throughout the book. Here are some of my favorites, though I underlined so much more: "Heterosexual relationships are dangerous: one must balance the necessity of sex with the impossibility of trust," "[The] belief in the falsehood of narrative and the truth of fragmentation is another story we tell ourselves," "[In] True Detective and Twin Peaks, the victim's body is a neutral arena on which to work out male problems."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    First of all, I want to say that Bolin is quite a talented writer. My review is in no way a condemnation of how she's written but rather what she has written. That disclaimer out of the way, this book is boldly, ingeniously mismarketed. To people browsing Goodreads reviews before picking this up (as I sadly did not), this is NOT a book about faddish obsession with true crime and how that reflects back on our society when we covet the crime but ignore or, worse, fetishize the victims. These are es First of all, I want to say that Bolin is quite a talented writer. My review is in no way a condemnation of how she's written but rather what she has written. That disclaimer out of the way, this book is boldly, ingeniously mismarketed. To people browsing Goodreads reviews before picking this up (as I sadly did not), this is NOT a book about faddish obsession with true crime and how that reflects back on our society when we covet the crime but ignore or, worse, fetishize the victims. These are essays about moving to LA, being broke in LA with weird roommates, obsessing over Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, and relating everything back to herself. This wouldn't be a cardinal writing sin if the book weren't sold the way it was, but as it stands, I feel incredibly cheated. Bolin is still interesting at times, but there are essays about movies I haven't seen and books that I haven't read, so hello, spoilers! I'm sorry, but there are times that the self-confessional essay style comes across as incredibly vapid, such as when she cuts down her father's taste in crime fiction or how she used her former best friend and then dumped her. Also, as a New Yorker, I have a real problem with this sentence: "I remember a particularly long and hangry journey deep into Brooklyn to get an inexpensive breakfast I had read about on the Internet, the insane amount we spent on subway fare neutralizing any savings from the cheap diner." The subway only costs $2.75 each way now, and given that this is set years after the fact, it was no doubt cheaper then. My eyes, they roll at this self-indulgence.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    So approximately 50 pages of this 288 page book dealt with Dead Girls--and the author made some excellent points and gave me a lot to consider as I consume pop culture. Those chapters read like the best essays from Bitch Magazine. Consume your pop culture, but be very aware of what we're actually hearing/watching/reading. However. Everything else was disappointing. If I wanted to read a book about how someone moved to LA and didn't like it, or loved to talk about Joan Didion's take on California, So approximately 50 pages of this 288 page book dealt with Dead Girls--and the author made some excellent points and gave me a lot to consider as I consume pop culture. Those chapters read like the best essays from Bitch Magazine. Consume your pop culture, but be very aware of what we're actually hearing/watching/reading. However. Everything else was disappointing. If I wanted to read a book about how someone moved to LA and didn't like it, or loved to talk about Joan Didion's take on California, I would have expected the title to reflect that. Once I realized the author was going to keep going back to the LA/Didion well, I started skimming (this was around page 120) and stopped here and there when it looked like we might get back to the "American Obsession" but we never did. I would love to read more from this author, as what I did read was usually insightful and at times humorous. That said, I think the publisher needs to more accurately title/blurb/edit these collections in future.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alix

    all my obsessions are, indeed, inside this book. - a collection of favorites: "the woods are shadowy, uncertain places, sympathetic to secrets, magic, transformations, and cruelty." (takes me back to an essay i wrote about cecelia condit, meditating on the geographical transcendence of the woods and how 'the psychological realms of our minds are very much linked' through art that embodies nature as a perverse homely place) "growing up with such bizarre splendor and danger implanted in me a kind of all my obsessions are, indeed, inside this book. - a collection of favorites: "the woods are shadowy, uncertain places, sympathetic to secrets, magic, transformations, and cruelty." (takes me back to an essay i wrote about cecelia condit, meditating on the geographical transcendence of the woods and how 'the psychological realms of our minds are very much linked' through art that embodies nature as a perverse homely place) "growing up with such bizarre splendor and danger implanted in me a kind of comfort with the sublime that can't have been healthy. everyone knows the american west embodies the twin ideals of beauty and terror - the intersection of the awful and the awesome - but growing up in a homely little town set against a lush and extreme landscape is freakier than that. (...) no one is watching, the uncanny countryside seems to say. anything is possible." "that women are problems to be solved, and the problem of absence, a disappearance or a murder, is generally easier to deal with than the problem of a woman's presence." (see: maggie nelson's quote about wanting to ask her professor if 'women were somehow always dead, or, conversely, had somehow not yet begun to exist...") "los angeles is a land of iterations, versions of versions, a swimming pool's endless refractions, a city that sprawls forever." & a description of myself: "i got too good at isolating myself, which was not intelligence but more likely the clichéd coexistence of self-hatred and self-obsession."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Makenzie

    My favourites in this collection were definitely "Toward a Theory of a Dead Girl Show," "The Husband Did It," and "A Teen Witch's Guide to Staying Alive." I also loved Bolin's writing about general pop culture, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Twin Peaks, and Lana Del Rey, and I fell particularly in love with her musings about LA and her focus on Joan Didion. This book is somewhat falsely marketed as most of it past the first essay strays from a cultural criticism of the "dead girl" trope, altho My favourites in this collection were definitely "Toward a Theory of a Dead Girl Show," "The Husband Did It," and "A Teen Witch's Guide to Staying Alive." I also loved Bolin's writing about general pop culture, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Twin Peaks, and Lana Del Rey, and I fell particularly in love with her musings about LA and her focus on Joan Didion. This book is somewhat falsely marketed as most of it past the first essay strays from a cultural criticism of the "dead girl" trope, although it is a topic that reoccurs from time to time throughout. I would recommend this for fans of Leslie Jamieson or Rebecca Solnit.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    What a beautiful, insightful book! Dead Girls is an original first person coming-of-age story rooted in essays that reckon with pop culture's obsession with girls (white ones, primarily, which Bolin examines) and what all this means for the self— that vulnerable, fleshy material that is forced to see itself as both an object of adoration and an object to be destroyed, when all it's trying to do is get a good job with benefits and a taco truck burrito for dinner. The book is not so much exclusive What a beautiful, insightful book! Dead Girls is an original first person coming-of-age story rooted in essays that reckon with pop culture's obsession with girls (white ones, primarily, which Bolin examines) and what all this means for the self— that vulnerable, fleshy material that is forced to see itself as both an object of adoration and an object to be destroyed, when all it's trying to do is get a good job with benefits and a taco truck burrito for dinner. The book is not so much exclusively about "dead girls" as it is about American culture's obsession with "girlhood" in general, and the ways that femininity is marred, manipulated and controlled by representations in true crime, music and popular culture. Like many millennial culture writers, Bolin is very aware of her positionality in reference to her material. She uses her own life for texture and adds characters for substance; what does it say about her father that he is so fond of Swedish crime novels, and what do those crime novels aim to get at with their audiences? Although she grapples with themes of misogyny and privilege, the book is a highly approachable examination of the personal and political. Unfortunately the marketing for Dead Girls totally undermines the book— ugly cover, misleading subtitle, weird summary. It fails to get at what makes this book so successful; namely, the way Bolin manages to capture her own coming-of-age with hawk-eyed clarity at a highly politicized time in popular culture. It is also a beautifully rendered ode to Los Angeles, a city whose complexity she channels with more love and care than the many writers who stay fixated on the isolated, white-washed Hollywood crowd and its immediate vicinity. And counter to what the title might suggest, this book was lively and inventive. I'm excited to see what's next from Alice Bolin.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    To put it bluntly, this needs more Dead Girls. The opening essay on our obsession with the dead girl trope is great. The rest of the essays are in strong need of an editor. This was the quote that caused me to throw in the towel: “Paul texted me ‘do you ever feel that your level of intelligence dooms you to be alone.’ My reply began, “My answer is I think sort of obviously yes.” PUUUUH-LEASE. So ⭐⭐⭐ for Dead Girls essay but -⭐ for remaining #MillennialSadness To put it bluntly, this needs more Dead Girls. The opening essay on our obsession with the dead girl trope is great. The rest of the essays are in strong need of an editor. This was the quote that caused me to throw in the towel: “Paul texted me ‘do you ever feel that your level of intelligence dooms you to be alone.’ My reply began, “My answer is I think sort of obviously yes.” PUUUUH-LEASE. So ⭐️⭐️⭐️ for Dead Girls essay but -⭐️ for remaining #MillennialSadness

  21. 4 out of 5

    Quinn Arruda

    This wasn't what I expected it to be, and as such I was disappointed.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Davies

    this book knocked me out. i can't wait for everyone to read it

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Flashes of brilliance, but the essays in fitting with the title are much less interesting than the essays about the author's California self-discovery and Joan Didion fascination. I'm so torn on Dead Girls as a collection. It's muddled and facile and smart and incisive - all in the same place. My lack of love for the Dead Girl essays might be because I've done a lot of my own thinking re: the function of victimhood. This is probably a natural extension of working in the justice system and having Flashes of brilliance, but the essays in fitting with the title are much less interesting than the essays about the author's California self-discovery and Joan Didion fascination. I'm so torn on Dead Girls as a collection. It's muddled and facile and smart and incisive - all in the same place. My lack of love for the Dead Girl essays might be because I've done a lot of my own thinking re: the function of victimhood. This is probably a natural extension of working in the justice system and having no choice but to be exposed to the spectrum of reactions to murder, from fear that violent crime happened in "our town" to the near-giddy fetishism of real life Dead Girls. I've read plenty of online discussions about true crime as voyeurism/entertainment and am familiar with the contradiction of tragedy being packaged inappropriately for consumption while we are yet unable to look away. Personally, I do not find the fictional "Dead Girls as vehicles for male detectives' self discovery" trope as problematic as is implied here. Again, this probably comes from spending time around investigators and recognizing that they are complex individuals who have their own stories, rather than thinking about them as an amorphous, signifying Maleness. A human reaction to a brutal case is not surprising. I am much more interested in critical analysis of the treatment of young, white, pretty women in (true and fictional) victimhood vs. older women, women of color, or "unattractive" women. Regarding the rest of the book...I'm really not sure what to make of the Swedish crime fiction essay, which is as alarmingly critical of the author's father as it is of Stieg Larsson. But then there is that perfect essay about all-consuming, platonic lady love through the lens of Ginger Snaps, and it's everything I hoped this collection would be.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Like all essay collections, some will resonate more than others. For me, Bolin really soars when she writes about pop culture and more specifically, about the ways "dead girls" become impetus for character development of men. She critically explores girlhood and race, without making sweeping statements about the status of girlhood -- she breaks it down, exploring what white girlhood to us culturally. What that says about who we are and what we care about (hint: it's not the dead girl, but it's a Like all essay collections, some will resonate more than others. For me, Bolin really soars when she writes about pop culture and more specifically, about the ways "dead girls" become impetus for character development of men. She critically explores girlhood and race, without making sweeping statements about the status of girlhood -- she breaks it down, exploring what white girlhood to us culturally. What that says about who we are and what we care about (hint: it's not the dead girl, but it's a pretty way to start the story). My favorite essays in here were the ones on Britney Spears. This could be read really well alongside Sady Doyle's Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... and Why. I also felt like her piece on the (brilliant!) movie GINGER SNAPS gave what is a badass feminist horror flick some of the credit it deserves. I found her pieces on Los Angeles to be pretty boring, though. I don't harbor an interest in the "Hello from all of this"/"Goodbye to all of this" essays. I don't care about Los Angeles or New York City or finding yourself as an artist in either. The Didion stuff was especially uninteresting to me as someone who hasn't read Didion. That said -- I see who those pieces are for and suspect they're well done. I looked forward to more pop culture pieces instead. Don't go in expecting the book to be entirely about Dead Girls. Bolin addresses this pretty early on, and we all fall for it. We want the pieces to be about the dead girls, about that trope, and they are. But not all of them. It's that promise which draws you in and keeps you. It's kind of brilliant how she uses that for her own character assessment.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)

    I think I expected a little more true crime focus to these essays than there was. The collection was a lot of personal reflections and musing on various books and films, and it was interesting to hear the author’s perspective on works by literary giants like Toni Morrison. I will say, if you’re a Joan Didion fan that you’ll appreciate the references that pop up throughout this collection! I’d also recommend listening to the @thereadingwomen podcast interview with this author which I loved! (@aut I think I expected a little more true crime focus to these essays than there was. The collection was a lot of personal reflections and musing on various books and films, and it was interesting to hear the author’s perspective on works by literary giants like Toni Morrison. I will say, if you’re a Joan Didion fan that you’ll appreciate the references that pop up throughout this collection! I’d also recommend listening to the @thereadingwomen podcast interview with this author which I loved! (@autumnprivett I’ve never seen Twin Peaks 🙈)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Monika

    I really wanted to love this, but I can't help but feel like I was misled. The analysis of the "Dead Girl" only pops up occasionally from chapter to chapter. Instead, this is more of a memoir with a dash cultural criticisms and numerous references to Joan Didion. There's nothing wrong with this, but it's not what I signed up for. Bolin is extremely intelligent and insightful, but I would have liked to see that keen eye turned to the actual topic of the book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly Dawn

    Based on the title and first few chapters, I assumed the essays in the book were all related to the media’s obsession with the victimization of women...in real life, true crime, crime fiction, or crime series on TV. Instead, the essays became random, veering off into unrelated territory, making the book feel disjointed, without a clear theme.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    A very interesting set of essays. Parts 1 (The Dead Girl Show) and 3 (Weird Sisters) are the strongest sets of essays examining the culture’s obsession with The Dead Girl in TV/film/books and how a living female body is harder to handle (“Just Us Girls” about the B-horror flick Ginger Snap is excellent). Part 2, which is about LA and Bolin’s connection with Joan Didion was fine, but the writing didn’t feel as strong to me.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emily Trettel

    True crime has been enjoying something between a genre revival and “coming out” in the last few years. “Murder shows” have joined the ranks of wine and yoga pants in the pantheon of guilty pleasures. The fan communities around such podcasts as Serial, My Favorite Murder, and Last Podcast on the Left have opened an unprecedentedly public and popular space for true crime obsessives and new initiates. Flynn’s deliciously trope-subversive Gone Girl vaulted female-centric mysteries from pulpy genre p True crime has been enjoying something between a genre revival and “coming out” in the last few years. “Murder shows” have joined the ranks of wine and yoga pants in the pantheon of guilty pleasures. The fan communities around such podcasts as Serial, My Favorite Murder, and Last Podcast on the Left have opened an unprecedentedly public and popular space for true crime obsessives and new initiates. Flynn’s deliciously trope-subversive Gone Girl vaulted female-centric mysteries from pulpy genre paperbacks to book club must-reads and the formula Bolin labels “the dead girl show” has been a coup for Netflix and HBO. So should we be concerned about a cultural adoration of the murder mystery, particularly when a real dead ‘girl’ is involved? Bolin appears to answer unequivocally yes, then forgets the question. Her takendown of the dead girl show is not unfair - that the beautiful but brutalized corpse is seldom a person but most often a McGuffin for the usually male protagonists to self-actualize around. But this thesis doesn’t seem new and has been the subject of meta-noir and mysteries. Her few pages spent on the topic of crime point out some easy culprits in cycles of recidivism; access to reliable medical and psychiatric care, economic instability, and classist and racial biases that may lead to disparate outcomes in the justice system and media coverage. Again these conclusions feel a bit lazy. At the end of essays waxing poetic about various entries and subversions in the thriller canon, the author concludes that Serial’s mistake was in dismissing the simplest explanation, the husband did it (or in Adnan’s case, the ex-boyfriend). This kind of strange analysis -- that the simplest explanation is inherently the correct one — seems hopelessly trite and misses the point that Serial was the story of a possible wrongful conviction, not a murder. Justice for a victim cannot be accomplished by limiting justice for the accused. Much later in the book, Bolin jettisons this criticism arguing the travesty of the Central Park Five occurred because the media canonized the anonymous victim while vilifying the boys. Bolin seems uncertain of her own thesis regarding the dead girl. The vast majority of the essays are devoted to Bolin herself, particularly who she dated and what she read. A self-confessed narcissist, she spends endless pages discussing how her elderly father’s heart disease made her a hypochondriac, how being a few blocks away when a mass shooting happened effected her, and how she moved to LA without a plan or goal to spice up her middle class, midwestern life. It is not enough to say you are a narcissist; the confession does not make your navel-gazing interesting. A strange proportion of the book is filled with analyzing the works of various authors and artists, particularly Joan Didion. Bolin is at her best discussing literature and low-brow pop culture but even this gets lost in the weeds of bland personal narrative, endless quotations from other works, and vacuous summations.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Two things: 1) I loved this smart, insightful, and funny collection of essays by Alice Bolin. 2) It’s not really about what you think it’s about. I went into Dead Girls expecting a collection of essays examining our cultural obsession with violence against women as entertainment. The book’s called Dead Girls, for god’s sake. But only the first few essays really address that topic. Honestly, Bolin is more focused on Joan Didion than on the dead girl trope. I was disappointed at first, but once I Two things: 1) I loved this smart, insightful, and funny collection of essays by Alice Bolin. 2) It’s not really about what you think it’s about. I went into Dead Girls expecting a collection of essays examining our cultural obsession with violence against women as entertainment. The book’s called Dead Girls, for god’s sake. But only the first few essays really address that topic. Honestly, Bolin is more focused on Joan Didion than on the dead girl trope. I was disappointed at first, but once I let go of my expectations, I ended up deeply connecting to Bolin and her writing. Bolin is primarily interested in entertainment and how our consumption of media effects our reality. She uses the Millennium series to discuss her relationship with her father, if he’s on the Autism spectrum, and whether or not that matters. She examines how Joan Didion both led her to LA and let her down. She uses a 1962 New Wave film Cléo from 5 to 7 to investigate her struggles with hypochondria. Dead Girls is half critical analysis and half a deeply personal coming of age story. As with all essay collections, I connected with some sections of this book more than others. I struggled with some of her essays worshiping Joan Didion (haven’t read her yet. Eeeeeek) and exploring LA. On the other hand, I was absolutely obsessed with the Weird Sisters portion of Dead Girls, specifically her essays “A Teen Witch’s Guide to Staying Alive” (discussing Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle) and “Just Us Girls” (about a campy, feminist, werewolf horror movie called Ginger Snaps). I also deeply connected to her last essay, "Accomplices", which dissects her first serious relationship, growing up late, and the privilege, power, and culpability of white women. Dead Girls is cultural criticism that is both academic and intimate. At times, I felt like I was learning so much. Other times, I felt like I was talking shit with my best friend. It was the perfect balance. I loved Dead Girls and will be keeping my eye out for more works from Bolin.

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