365 Books in 365 Days – Episode 188 by Annie Walton Doyle

Brutes by Dizz Tate

 “We felt foul and fatherly and frightened of ourselves. We tried to make ourselves small. We were coiled up but we were not broken. And we knew our mothers’ idea of goodness was not measured by morals but by how much noise we made. And quickly we grew tired of trying to be good in their way.”

Dizz Tate’s Brutes, the story of female adolescence in small-town Florida, depicts the true horror of girlhood and growing up. It centers around what happens when one of the neighborhood girls goes missing. But this disappearance is actually a catalyst to expose the darkness that the town has been just barely managing to conceal.

Like the lake the town centers around, below the surface of the town, everything has been privately rotting. In fact, the depiction of the town overall is one of decay. “There is a specifically Floridian smell, the stink of America. Microwaves plastic, air freshener, hot oil mixed with mildew, and something else. Something ancient, rotting, and sweaty. Possibly life.”

The story is told primarily through the first person plural “we.” The “brutes” who are telling us of the events of the town are reminiscent of a chorus in a Greek tragedy, and this well expresses the homogenous hive-mindedness that pervades adolescent girlhood. “We would not be born out of sweetness, we were born out of rage, we felt it in our bones.”

The contrast between the quiet rage and destruction of the narrative voice and the fact we know this is all coming from the minds of pre-teen girls is stark. We often assume that little girls are good and pure, but Brutes proves these assumptions aren’t just incorrect – they’re dangerous, too. 

Because the brutes of the novel are so often overlooked, they can get away with things most adults wouldn’t expect they’d even want to do. Their creepy, voyeuristic tendencies have an intense focus on Sammy, the preacher’s daughter who eventually goes missing. “We filled up our days following them, watching them, waiting to be invited in.” 

This means that when the town is scrambling, looking for clues and answers, the brutes have more knowledge than anyone else. “We lie flat on our bellies, so we are less visible, though we realize it does not matter. They are not looking at us and have never looked at us. No one looks at us and this gives us a brutal power.” But because they seem young, sweet, and naive, no one even thinks to ask. 

The novel also has alternating chapters set in the adult lives of the various brutes. The “we” moves to an “I,” but we still see how the events of adolescence have pervaded and continue to rot away at the characters’ lives.

“Imagine for a second there is something inside you like a soul. This soul is like a bowl of still water … Now imagine a syringe. The vial is brown and, as you look at it, you realize it is full of human shit, the tiniest, foulest amount … How quickly it spreads and stinks and fouls this cleanest thing at your center. And in seconds the bowl is ruined.”

Annie Walton Doyle is a 20-something writer based in Manchester, UK. She typically writes about beauty and other “personal aesthetics,” with a healthy dose of both social commentary and stupidity. When not touching makeup or reading books, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature, and mysteries.

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