Lauren Beukes' "The Shining Girls" & Chocolate Cayenne Cookies
It’s hard to predict how two elements will react until they are brought together. Lauren Beukes combines the fantastic and the gruesome in her novel The Shining Girls, and, in a wonderfully weird way, it works.
The novel follows Harper, a run of the mill thug living in Chicago during the Great Depression. Looking for shelter, he unsuspectingly enters a deserted-looking house, and from there the story takes off.The house Harper finds, though decrepit and abandoned on the outside, is actually full of a strange magic. Every time Harper opens the door to leave, he is transported to another time. This time travel is addressed beautifully; Beukes describes the way Harper can see decades of development from his window occur in minutes. The twist, however, is that the house transports Harper to specific times in order to find the ‘shining girls’ — young girls with bright futures — and murder them.
Harper and his discovered house are both fascinating characters. Harper is a bad guy in every sense of the word — he lies, he steals, he murders innocent people for his own amusement, and his development traces his shift from evil to completely deranged. Strangely, the house is not a passive bystander; it buzzes with energy and fills itself with clues as to who the shining girls are — all to help Harper find his victims when he enters a new time.
The novel tackles two literary tropes — time travel and murder — and weaves them together wonderfully. The perspective of a murderer grounds the otherwise magical elements of time travel, and the house’s ability to leap across time adds an intriguing layer to the classic serial killer story.
The Shining Girls reads, in some ways, as a series of short stories. Each shining girl’s life is full of potential, and the reader repeatedly falls in love with characters who are destined to be pulled away. When one of Harper’s victims finally survives his attempts, however, the hunt to find and bring him to justice begins.
Because I was so intrigued by the different elements in the story, I was inspired to try my hand at cayenne chocolate chip cookies. I have a sweet tooth that can sometimes only be satisfied by homemade cookies, and the spicy kick takes these simple treats to a gourmet level. Lesson learned: opposites do attract, and together they can create unexpectedly wonderful results.