Dizz Tate’s debut novel, batIt begins with a disappearance: Sammy Liu-Lou, daughter of a famous TV preacher and an enigmatic rebel with shaved hair. When her mother discovers her empty bed, a question echoes through the fictional Florida town and “tickles” the surface of the lake that lies menacingly undisturbed at its center: “Where is she?”
Somewhat annoyingly, Sammy is meant to remain a mystery, since this novel isn’t about her, but about the gang of eighth grade girls who sit behind binoculars in their bedroom windows, ogling her – and everyone else’s – every move. These are Tate’s “brutes,” which together make up the book’s sardonic but vulnerablely naïve first-person plural narrator. Sammy’s disappearance is just a distraction in what reads like a literary house of mirrors that purposely only scratches the surface of the dubious (and occasionally supernatural) workings in this swampy, theme park-bordering landscape. As a search party of evangelical groupies unfolds, the girls introduce us to a suspicious cast of characters, including Sammy’s cartoonishly villainous best friend, Mia, who recruits children for her talent show, Star Search, along with her mother and a man named Stone.
During bat Wading around the chilling revelations at its core, it is anchored by one idea: “that the stories we told were not just stories, but creatures, both dangerous and true”. In this magically realistic, twisted Florida fairy tale, a Lynchian reimagining of The Virgin Suicides, trauma manifests itself in highly unpredictable ways. Every girl dreams of becoming her protagonist; Through glimpses of her future, we discover that the road to stardom comes at a high price.
Previously on the longlist of Sunday times Short Story Prize Tate traverses familiar territory bat. Raised in Orlando, her stories often focus on Florida and the intense bonds between girlfriends. In bat, she paints the girls’ lawns in glorious (sometimes repulsive) technicolor — “the stink of America (microwave plastic, air freshener, hot oil)”, alligators “renamed therapy dogs” — interspersed with flashes of whip-smart, bone-dry wry humor. In this raunchy, elusive debut, Tate vividly captures the insecurities of girlhood, her growing pains, and what it’s like to be “born of anger.”