The Beautiful Horror of Girlhood: A Review of Dizz Tate’s ‘Brutes’
Dizz Tate’s debut novel Brutes is a story about a missing girl; but, like all stories about missing girls, Brutes is not really about the girl at all. It is about the world that exists around the girl and the culture that created her. These sorts of stories can often pose a problem by denying the girl a personhood of her own, and Brutes is even less about the missing girl than most. Despite this, Tate’s handling of this narrative is more empathetic than one would expect, which allows Brutes to stand above other novels of this kind.
Brutes is a coming-of-age story about a group of 13-year-old girls living in Falls Landing, Florida, a fictional town that perfectly captures the sort of theme park, tourist-trap fakery that is so ingrained in the Florida culture. The girls come to admire an older girl named Sammy, the daughter of a television preacher, who suddenly disappears. Sammy’s parents and the other adults desperately search for her, while trying to maintain their children’s innocence, but it is clear from the novel’s outset that the girls are more aware of the darker aspects of their lives than they let on. Still, like all young girls, they are easily distracted by talk of cute boys, talent search auditions and all the other things that seem important at 13.
Where Brutes truly stands out, however, is in the way it chooses to convey this story. The book is narrated in a sort of collective first-person. The girls’ story is told through the singular “we” of childhood, which is occasionally interspersed with the “I” of being an adult. Even with this choice of perspective, each of the six central characters has a distinct personality and voice—and Tate handles them all effortlessly.
Brutes is a beautiful celebration of the uglier parts of growing up, depicting the way that cruelty is just as inherent a part of innocence as kindness and the trauma that can come with developing an identity. It explores the themes of imitation and performance that are so integral to girlhood and the way young women experience the world as a “we” long before they learn what it means to be an “I.”
Tate’s descriptions are highly detailed, often to the point of becoming grotesque, but this is always to the benefit of the narrative. The novel’s darker topics, on the other hand, are always handled with grace and empathy, demonstrating Tate’s understanding of when it is better to leave things unsaid. She excellently recreates the voice of childhood; those early teen years where everything seems to matter so much and yet nothing seems to matter at all; and she wonderfully juxtaposes it with the quiet melancholy of adulthood, when one looks back on those days with a mixture of nostalgia and regret.
Brutes is out now and is one of our Book Picks for Spring 2023. See the full list here.