Much has been made of female rage in the past few years. From Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her to Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage to Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad, it is as if we’ve finally been given permission to let loose the years of fury and resentment that have been building up inside of us, encasing our hearts in a bitter blackness, making our chests burn.
For so long, women have been socialized to be pleasant. To be gracious and amenable. To cater to the needs of others at the expense of our own.
But now, perhaps thanks to campaigns like the #MeToo movement, we are being invited to clench our fists. To scream our throats raw. To splay ourselves open and show the world our blackened hearts. We are told that in doing so, we will make the world a better place.
Without actual systemic change, however (and despite the benefits of speaking up and speaking out and seeing our experiences echoed in those of others), these invitations to raise our voices and make a difference oftentimes feel like a fantasy.
Perhaps that’s why I so adore female serial killers in my fiction.
Because if I’m going to live in a fantasy, I may as well spend it with the women who will take that fantasy just a little bit further. The women who will do the things we are not allowed to do.
In the books that follow, women have harnessed their rage and turned toward violence. Don’t worry, though. It’s fiction. You’re allowed to root for them.
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz
I love this book so. much. You have no idea. It’s about a time-traveling woman who’s part of a secret group that’s determined to use time travel technology to manifest a better future for women and nonbinary folks. And while this group has rules about how far they’re willing to go in the pursuit of change, sometimes…shit just happens. Right? Come for the bonus history about Comstock and the Chicago World’s Fair. Stay for the adventure sci-fi in which this bad-ass group of women and nonbinary folks go toe-to-toe with a group of incels who are attempting to make life a living hell for marginalized groups — permanently.
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
I will read anything by Megan Abbott. Anything. But there’s something about this particular book — about two ambitious chemists who will do anything to achieve their professional dreams — that gets me. The rivalry between these two women is fierce. But it’s the spoiled childhood friendship and the secrets they know about each other that, in the end, will give one of them the edge they need.
They Never Learn by Layne Fargo
Scarlett Clark is more than just a college English professor. She’s also a vigilante who’s gotten away with murder many times over. Her targets? Young men who have committed sexual assault yet not faced any consequences. By the time we meet Clark, she’s planning her biggest kill yet…but a detective who’s been brought onto campus to investigate the latest murder is starting to connect the dots. For everyone who’s ever fantasized about taking justice into their own hands, here’s a killer you can root for.
Out by Natsuo Karino
What young wife and mother among us has not, at times, felt just a little bit murdery? In this thriller, a young woman in Tokyo finally snaps and murders her husband, who has been cheating on her and gambling all their money away. Unfortunately, just as with the nine-headed hydra, where one problem is dealt with, more pop up to take its place. And in this case, it’s not just the police our protagonist has to deal with. Desperation can make us do dangerous, unimaginable things. How far will this one woman go to be free?
Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari
When an esteemed art professor goes to his protégé’s remote home to view her graduate thesis collection, he’s hoping for more than just an intellectual connection. The protégé in question also has other plans…but they’re far from what her professor expects. You won’t be able to put this book down as you learn more and more about this art student’s motivations.
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting
Not every story in this collection features murder most foul, but all of them feature women who are desperate for a sense of agency, and who will reach for it in whichever way is necessary. About gender and authority and the ways we restrict the female body, this dark comedy allows women to embrace their most depraved desires.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The protagonist of this satirical thriller has always protected her sociopathic, serial-killing sister. But when the man she’s been quietly pining after for years asks for her sister’s phone number, she’s forced to reconsider where her loyalties lie. As the story spins out, we start to learn more about why the protagonist’s sister may have started murdering all of her boyfriends. But despite this understanding, who should we root for in the end?
The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
The last book on this list is a little bit kooky. It’s a self-aware homage to slasher films featuring a whole group of “final girls.” The “final girl,” of course, is that common horror trope featuring the one girl who, in the midst of a murder spree, manages to get away. These final girls usually survive because they have not committed any of the sins that typically get people killed in horror films… sins like sex or drugs. Rather, they are pure and virginal. But the final girls in Jones’s novel are anything but ordinary and, in fact, one of them may be making a bid to be the final final girl.
If you make your way through this list and still hunger for more, may I introduce you to the real female killers featured in Tori Telfer’s Lady Killers. This entertaining book delves into the crimes of a different female serial killer in each chapter. It’s a fun read and I can’t wait to read her latest, Confident Women.
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