Dizz Tate’s Debut Novel ‘Brutes’ Captures the Swings of Youth : NPR
On the first page of Dizz Tate’s first novel rawa 14-year-old girl has gone missing from Falls Landing, Florida, where the screams of nearby theme parks echo through the air and an eerie lake separates a gated development from rundown apartment towers.
The missing girl, the daughter of a TV preacher named Sammy Liu-Lou, had been living in the shelter behind the high white walls of the development, and her disappearance immediately becomes an event. Women who seem “made for church, in skorts and pastel-colored sweaters” strap on their headlamps and set off into the summer night in search of the girl, dodging the lake that shines as black as an oil slick.
But while “Where is she?” repeats throughout raw like a mantra, it’s not a book primarily concerned with Sammy’s research. Instead, Tate eschews the missing girl trope and makes the much more compelling choice to focus her lens on a group of 13-year-old girls who are used to blending into the background. “No one is watching us and that gives us brutal power,” the girls tell as one. They watch the city mobilize from their apartment windows the night Sammy disappears, binoculars offering them omniscience. “We always know where Sammy is,” the girls say, but no one would ever think to question them.
A lot of raw unfolds in this compelling first-person plural, beehive-mind set of five girls and one queer boy (believed to be one of them) – Leila, Britney, Jody, Hazel, Isabel and Christian – who burn their bare feet while crawling. “white-hot sidewalks” and discover the secrets of the city. They’re the titular bullies, who revel in doing petty stunts that tighten their bonds. By immersing the reader in the collective perspective of girls, raw constitutes an original and stylistically ambitious approach to the well-rehearsed subject of girls in peril.
Tate perfectly captures the simultaneous impatience and mercurial swings of youth, where you feel like you’re growing older day by day but still being left “behind, as invisible to them as it looks now, little children with big backpacks. The girls started spying on Sammy out of a desire to get out of their own lives, which irritate and itch like overly tight restraints. Sammy is not only wealthier and a year older, but she’s done some attention-grabbing moves – shaving off her dark hair “curtain” and teaming up with Mia, whose mother runs an expensive program Star Search. who promises auditions with a Hollywood casting agent. The girls read Sammy and Mia’s changing shades of nail polish like tea leaves, hoping to crack the code to finally get noticed and chosen for Star Search recruitment: “We crushed our faces against the glass of our own lives. Right?… We filled our days following them, observing them, waiting to be invited.”
As raw progresses, Tate intersects the propulsive chapters of “us” with forward leaps into each girl’s singular future, exploring how they are separately haunted by what happened the summer Sammy went missing. The first chapter in the first person singular arrives about a quarter into the novel, rousing the reader from a dream and revealing that the hive mind did not emerge intact. Because the girls aren’t very developed as individuals in the “we” chapters – after all, they never want to be alone or disagree – I found myself flipping through pages for reminders one of which was Hazel, the first girl offered her voice. I wondered if the set was not too crowded for such a burst. Ultimately, however, these fast forwards ominously color the action of the novel’s present, as the search for Sammy continues, the girls grow closer to Mia, and the dangers and possibilities of youth flicker around the edges. .
The only predictable move Tate makes in raw? While Mia hands out Star Search business cards to girls she deems pretty enough to be models, a sleazy photographer named Stone is the real caretaker, and the girls earn his approval in his gleaming pink house behind the walls of the development. Thankfully, instead of detailing Stone’s misdeeds, Tate focuses his commentary on how the city’s culture allowed him. In Falls Landing, swampy decay and corruption lurk beneath every veneer.
Far more unusual than Stone, and therefore more intriguing, is the polluted lake and its enigmatic role in Sammy’s disappearance and the haunting of the girls. In its eerie stillness and sticky dirt, the lake holds a dark secret of its own. By coloring raw with the murky waters of the lake, Tate adds depth and welcomes the strangeness of what could have been a more ordinary nightmare.
Kristen Martin is working on a book about the American orphanage for Bold Type Books. His writings have also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Believer, The Baffler, and elsewhere. She tweets at @kwistent.