Book Review: Foul Is Fair by Hannah Capin
By Doreen SheridanFebruary 13, 2020
Hannah Capin’s terrific debut novel, The Dead Queens Club, was a YA thriller that re-examined the legacy of Henry VIII via transplantation to a present-day Indiana high school. With her sophomore effort, Foul Is Fair, she continues her quest to reclaim the role and agency of women in history and literature via a devastating adaptation of Macbeth, set in modern-day California and peopled primarily by privileged teenagers instead of warring Scots royalty.
Our narrator is Elle, the beautiful sixteen-year-old whose close relationship with Mads, Jenny, and Summer has them locked together in a coven of glamour and wildness. For her birthday, the girls decide to crash a party thrown by the students of a prep school neighboring their own staid Los Angeles academy. The popular kids of St. Andrews willingly let them in, and it isn’t long before the most popular boys set their sights on Elle as the next target for their depravity.
Reinventing herself afterward as Jade, Elle changes her appearance and transfers to St. Andrews, hell-bent on revenge. With the help of her coven, she quickly makes her way into the charmed inner circle of popular kids, beguiling golden boy Mack and enlisting his aid in the murder of not only every boy who raped her, but all the other students who abetted in her assault as well. But can she avoid falling in love, thereby ruining the plot she’s so carefully constructed to stop Duncan and Duffy and Banks and Connor from hurting other girls ever again?
Foul Is Fair is a novel that is as deeply angry and unapologetic as its heroine, and I loved every word of it. It cleverly draws from Shakespeare’s play, and while I have nothing against ambition for its own sake as motivation (though it is tiresome when ambition in a woman is automatically equated with villainy,) I found the reimagination of Lady Macbeth’s back story to be utterly convincing. The timeliness of the message only serves to underscore the timelessness of Shakespeare’s own words:
He stares so deep into my eyes I almost think he can see who I really am.
Almost. Not quite.
I give him my very best St. Andrew’s smile like the good girl the teachers think I am. Like the bleeding-bright flowers creeping up the stone walls, hiding the cracks and the secrets.
“Look like the innocent flower,” I say, and I kiss him—
so virgin-pure he wouldn’t even know it was me if he closed his eyes—
but then I turn it deep and cruel, and he feels it and he kisses back just as hungry—
—and I catch his lip between my teeth, but he doesn’t pull away.
I let him go. I say, “But be the serpent under it.”
Downstairs, a bell rings. Duncan’s car waits at the gate.
I breathe out my last line: Leave all the rest to me.
Ms. Capin’s prose, even divorced from the original Shakespeare, is exquisite as she plumbs the depths of Jade’s harrowed heart. The reader is immersed in Jade’s rage and sorrow, doubt and paranoia, as her coven both keeps her afloat and checks her when her emotions threaten to overwhelm. The process of recovery isn’t easy, especially when trauma and pharmaceuticals blur the memory—a panacea for some, but not for Jade:
Someone shrieks so piercing cold it takes my breath away.
“I have to remember,” I gasp. “I have to know—”
Your eyes—he said, and then white, and the hallway, with my talons scraping the floor and the walls bending in, and Connor’s iron grip—
The shriek tears the air open again.
“Jade,” says Mads. “Jade, Jade, Jade—”
The shriek rips sharper. Cruel and ruinous.
“Jade,” says Mads, again and again, until my shriek is a dagger that blots out the sun–
Jade, says Mads.
I stand up. My wings and my scream swallow up the sky.
This powerful tale of vengeance and destruction—leavened with the unyielding love and support Jade’s parents give her after she tells them of the rape—moved me to tears several times, even as the ending provided an atypical catharsis. Events proceed perhaps unnaturally quickly unless one takes into account the hothouse of teenage life, where hormone-fueled emotions and cruelties bloom and ripen more rapidly than in everyone else’s. While Foul Is Fair might not be for people who prefer a tidier morality, it is definitely a book for every girl, every woman, every person who’s been told they have no right to be angry in the aftermath of abuse.