Gillian Flynn was one of the first thriller authors I ever read, back in the Gone Girl heyday and she certainly knows what she’s doing in that genre. I’ve recently read her newest publication, a short story (only 66 pages) called The Grownup. This book is nothing like I expected, but it’s certainly worth talking about.
P. S.–this book is for grownups. I would not recommend it for middle teens or below.
About the book: The unnamed narrator of this book first made her living by begging on the streets with her mother, making up stories that played on people’s sympathies so that the two could afford to live without real employment. From there, our narrator found work as a professional hand job distributer, in a building that doubled as a fortune-telling booth. When carpal tunnel becomes a real problem, the main character decides she’s good enough at reading people and guessing what they want to hear that she’s ready to take on the role of a psychic. Most of her clients are easy–bored housewives who need a little injection of drama and eagerly fill in all of the blanks themselves. One woman whom is easily coaxed into expensive “house cleansings” which could make our narrator a fortune if the trend catches on. But the cleansings do not go as expected. The house may actually be haunted. One of the children living there is clearly disturbed. Something isn’t right, and maybe they won’t all escape. But the question remains–where is the danger originating? Who is in trouble, and who is the trouble?
The fun of this book is that someone must be lying, but the reader must decide for him- or herself which version of the truth to believe; the narrator’s life depends on whom she trusts, though she may also be untrustworthy. Her talent for spinning stories and her profession as a “psychic” alert the reader to the narrator’s proclivities toward convincing lies.
We see only background details that relate to the plot since this book is so short–only a snapshot of each character. This means that every sentence is important, every action and conversation and thought revealed must be weighed carefully as the reader endeavors to sort out what will become of each of the characters. And that job is left entirely to the reader–this book ends in a precarious place with no more than insinuations in each direction, leaving the reader to decide whether the narrator found safety or dug herself into deeper catastrophe. This is a book that requires the puzzling out of clues, and a possible second read to sort out opinions once all of the information has been presented. This is a story that makes readers think, even after putting the book down.
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I read this book in one very short sitting over a week ago now, and I’m still trying to sort out what I think is going on with the ending. I wish I could say more about my own theories, but I don’t want to spoil the surprises of the story. I definitely think I’ll be rereading this one at some point to see if my ideas hold up, and I appreciate that this book is short enough that I could do that at any time. The Grownup made me laugh, it made me worry, it left me constantly wondering what would happen next. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read.
- If you like creepy stories and want something a little more full-length, let me suggest Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. I thought this was the creepiest of Flynn’s novels, and it has a lot of the same qualities as The Grownup, only darker–much darker. The narrator of this book goes back to the place where her family was brutally murdered during her childhood and finds herself in fresh danger as she begins to piece together what she couldn’t understand at such a young age.
- The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane is a great choice for readers who enjoy trying to decide which parts of the story are real. A mild magical realism tale, this book focuses on an elderly woman who lives alone after the death of her husband and begins to sense that a tiger is inside her house at night. The government worker who arrives to help our protagonist manage day-to-day life takes the tiger in stride, but brings other problems for our confused main character. This one sorts itself out in the end, but it’s a wonderfully unusual journey to the truth that keeps readers wondering whether the danger is real or imagined.
I haven’t read much short fiction. Short stories, yes, and I love them, but usually those are even shorter than The Grownup. I like long books so much that I hardly ever read short works, and I really want to find more books under 200 pages or so to give this format more consideration. I’m not necessarily looking only for creepy thrillers, so if you have any great recommendations of short books for me, please leave a comment so I can check it out!
Coming up next: I’ve just finished reading Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, a science fiction thriller. I put off reading this one for months, and I’m so mad about that because it absolutely swept me away. It certainly would’ve found a place on my favorite books of 2016 if I had read it sooner, and even though it’s early in the year, I think it has a good chance of finding its way onto my 2017 list of favorites. Check back tomorrow to find out why!
The Literary Elephant