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What They Do in the Dark: A Novel

What They Do in the Dark - Amanda Coe The book takes place over the summer months of 1975. A child star, Lallie Paluza, is filming a movie about a young girl’s encounter with a pedophile, which has disastrous consequences. Concurrently, another story is playing out. Two ten or eleven year old schoolgirls, Pauline and Gemma, from two completely different walks of life, develop and odd relationship which barely resembles friendship. Most of the characters featured, in both narratives, seem severely dysfunctional in some way or to be the product of deviant backgrounds or lifestyles. They have little regard for the consequences of their actions and believe the means justifies the ends. Parental influence, when featured, is almost negligible or negative
Pauline is penniless; she lives in a state of open depravity in a home filled with an odd assortment of relatives and visitors. She is exposed to a lifestyle far beyond her years without the mental or emotional capacity to process it. Her mom is in and out of jail, as a lady of the night. Pauline can be cruel and completely ungovernable. She does as she pleases, when she pleases. She has no guidance and has no moral compass. She seems to have no conscience. She is streetwise and a bully.
Gemma lives with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend, in a good neighborhood with many advantages, but she misses her dad. On the outside, she appears to be living in a healthy, wholesome environment. She is obsessed with her adoration for the child star, Lallie. Under her goody two-shoes personality there lurks a subtle mean or angry core that shows itself with surprising vehemence. She is a seething combination of confused emotions.
This novel is very unsettling. The subject matter that is hinted at, as the story moves back and forth from the movie set to Pauline and Gemma, is often unnerving. Underneath the main storyline the reader may anxiously feel a suspicion that there is a more than a casual relationship between the storyline of Lallie Paluza and that of Gemma and Pauline. About halfway through the novel, the narratives actually intersect for awhile, as the movie crew comes to town to choose extras for the Lallie Paluza movie. As I read, I always had the feeling of an unknown dread, an unspoken violence that was lurking beneath the dialogue.
The storyline in the Gemma/Pauline chapters is very easy to follow and effortlessly holds the readers interest, but the switch to the story about Lallie sometimes feels disjointed and is not always a smooth enough transition to make the reader aware immediately that the venue has changed. Often it is hard to figure out which character is being featured and in what story the character plays the part. That was the weakest part of the novel since it was not as engaging.
I received this book from Goodreads. For a first novel, the author has done an excellent job of putting pen to paper. It is creative and well written. Most of the important characters are well defined and although the reader might not want to picture the scenes because of their nature, the author does a good job of painting them for the imagination.