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The Spite Game


The Spite Game

Anna Snoekstra has quickly acquired a critical and commercial following within a relatively short amount of time as the result of her debut, ONLY DAUGHTER. LITTLE SECRETS, her sophomore effort, fulfilled the promise of her first. Her third novel, THE SPITE GAME, continues her practice of combining elements of domestic suspense with psychological aspects, quietly and unexpectedly twisting and turning her plot so that while you might guess what happens, you also might be very wrong.

THE SPITE GAME ping-pongs back and forth over a 10-year period between 2008 and 2018. Snoekstra drops hints about what has transpired across the timeline, giving readers plenty of opportunities to speculate. The narrator is a woman named Ava, who, after the present-day Prologue, begins recounting her experience as a high school senior. Ava sees herself as part of an almost invisible herd, observing from afar a trio of girls. She is slowly admitted into Mel, Saanvi and Cass’ circle but soon comes to regret it.

"[T]he real charm of this book is the manner in which Snoekstra sets up the delicious bit of irony that hits you like a sledgehammer near the end."

Mel is their leader, so to speak, the one with the ideas who knows just how to manipulate and goad someone into doing what she wants. She has the qualities to become the actress she aspires to be. Saanvi is cool and aloof. She has dreams of being an architect, which is fitting, given that she seems to observe the world through a series of sharp angles and trajectories, measured to see how they will benefit her the most. Cass is a follower, happy to go along with whatever her friends decide. When we first meet these young ladies, they enlist Ava as a passive partner in some “girl bullying,” which she initially finds interesting and repulsive. However, it is only when they turn their sights to Ava herself that she feels the brunt of what they are doing and vows revenge.

If it is said that revenge is a meal best eaten cold, Ava certainly takes her time preparing the meal. She obtains payback from Saanvi and Cass to varying degrees. It is Mel, though, who is the master gameswoman and sees her coming. We learn about who has done what to who, and when and how, in fits and starts. But the real charm of this book is the manner in which Snoekstra sets up the delicious bit of irony that hits you like a sledgehammer near the end.

THE SPITE GAME is set in contemporary Australia --- Snoekstra’s home base --- but American readers will certainly identify with and acknowledge the themes and settings of the novel without a hesitation or blink. The author’s past work as a screenwriter and music video director allows the story to unfold in cinéma vérité style, with Ava --- complex, complicated and seething --- holding the camera and, to a great extent, controlling the action, at least in the later years.

This is a book that many readers a few years removed from high school will be able to identify with, but don’t be surprised if it finds a high school audience on its own.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 2, 2018

The Spite Game
by Anna Snoekstra