OBSESSION can grow from the simplest of desires — to be good at something. That can easily morph into the need to be the best, the requirement to always be a winner, even if the sacrifices don’t balance out.
The Knox family learns the destructive nature of obsession in Megan Abbott’s fiercely gripping “You Will Know Me.” Using the background of gymnastics, Abbott’s novel works well as a story about a family, a community, gossip, envy and blind ambition. This sharply plotted novel eschews overt violence, yet a sense of danger and menace flows throughout the story.
Katie and Eric Knox got their daughter, Devon, into gymnastics when she was 3 years old, following a horrific accident in which two of her toes were sheared off by a lawn mower. The sport, they were told, would “help with balance.” Devon quickly moves up the ranks, fearless on the vault table and now, at 15, possibly on track for the Olympics.
The training is grueling, practically around the clock, at the BelStars Gym with coach Teddy Belfour. For the Knoxes and other families, “gymnastics became the center, the mighty spine of everything.” Other parents are happy that Devon’s talents raise the gym’s reputation with reflected glory heaped on all the kids who attend. These same parents also resent Devon’s star status because their own children pale next to her.
The hit-and-run death of Ryan Beck, a young man dating the coach’s niece, threatens the insular world of the gym as jealousies and secrets emerge. The Knoxes’ determination to shield Devon has far-reaching ramifications.
Abbott illustrates the sacrifices that are often made to achieve a dream. The Knoxes are burdened by credit card debt and two mortgage payments, and their old cars constantly need repair. With the attention on Devon, their studious son Drew is often neglected, his fourth-grade science projects forgotten in the wake of his sister’s gymnastic meets.
The unsteady world of gymnastics could easily be seen as a metaphor for the shenanigans of Wall Street, politics and power seekers — a setting rife for a dangerous situation that may erupt at any time. Abbott expertly illustrates how a fragile foundation crumbles in “You Will Know Me.” (AP)