Joseph Edwin Haeger

Book Review: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews The Grownup by Gillian Flynn.

 

Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup is a slim book. Its sixty-two pages don’t make it a short novella, and it certainly doesn’t read as one. It’s much more of a long short story; it has a brisk and fun voice to pull the reader along. Since the story is enjoyable, the problems I had fell away almost immediately after reading it—which, for good or ill, benefits the book in the end.

It opens on an unnamed female narrator telling us how many hand jobs she’s given in her working life. It’s the matter-of-fact honesty that makes this character likable from the first page. We then learn about the character’s back story, but she does it in a way that connects her past to how she got into the sex worker business. It’s kind of like showing the inciting incident and then cutting to “Three Weeks Earlier,” but it works here because Flynn isn’t giving us the climax at the start—she’s talking about hand jobs, and it’s all to round the main character out.

It’s quickly revealed that our narrator had to give up her regular sex work because of carpal tunnel syndrome. Her boss moves her to the front of the business—palm reading in the front, under the table sex work in the back—as a psychic. She has an ability to read people, and while she calls it intuition her boss calls it seeing an aura, and so she begins her career as a swindler. This is when she meets Susan and is taken to a house because it may be haunted. At the may-be haunted house we meet Susan’s stepson Miles, and he might be possessed. Our narrator takes it upon herself to help this family because she has an odd affection for Susan, and because we like her we’re along for the ride.

Out of curiosity and sympathy, the narrator finds herself going back to the house time and time again, even when she could be in danger, and I think this is the biggest problem with the story. There is a large portion of the slim book devoted to her back story about how she grew up in a fatherless home and her eclectic mother took her to the corners of the street to beg for money. All this led her to service jobs. Though, when we get to the actual plot in The Grownup, we don’t see any of these elements play an influential role in her motivations to help Susan. At the start, she is simply using this woman so she can go into the home’s expansive library and read while getting paid a large sum of money to “cleanse” the house of bad spirits; but even after our narrator starts to believe in the supernatural we see her continuing to go back to the house. What she does for Susan is based out of sympathy as opposed to empathy. The actions our narrator takes in the second half of the book seemingly have no correlation with the first half.

In the grand scheme of things, Flynn has written this for the pure entertainment of the reader. She isn’t trying to make a larger point with The Grownup, and that’s fine. She just wanted to write a fun ghost story, and she succeeded in that. Had this been longer, I would have wanted more connection and better motivation; but in its current state, the book is no different than watching a thrilling blockbuster for two hours. The time commitment is minimal, and the level of fun is high. Even with the twist at the end—it doesn’t matter if you successfully guessed it or not—the book is slim enough and takes less time to read than it would to complain about it. It may not compel hours of analysis, but I will look on it fondly for giving me topnotch entertainment for a couple of hours.

 

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Joseph Edwin Haeger

Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim (University of Hell Press, 2015). His writing has appeared in The Pacific NW Inlander, RiverLit, Hippocampus Magazine, and others. He lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and son.

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