By Gillian Flynn
Review by Stephanie Mendoza
Gillian Flynn grew up with a mother who was an English professor and a father in the film industry. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Initially, she tried her hand at being a crime reporter, which turned out to be more than she could handle. Flynn moved to New York wrote for Entertainment Weekly magazine for ten years. She released her first novel, Sharp Objects, in 2006. Sharp Objects is an Edgar Award finalist and received two of Britain’s Dagger Awards. Flynn’s second novel, Dark Places, was released in 2009 and quickly became the New York Times bestseller, Chicago Tribune Favorite Fiction, Publishers Weekly’s Best Book of 2009, and Weekend TODAY”s Top Summer Read. Then it was adapted to a movie in 2015. Gone Girl is Flynn’s third novel, and it spent several years on the New York Times bestseller lists. And just like Dark Places was adapted to a movie but this time Flynn herself wrote the screenplay.
I believe that all these novels fall under contemporary literature, but her short novel The Grownup is the smallest one to join the ranks. It has won an Edgar Award and a place on the New York Times bestseller lists. Within only 100 pages, The Grownup contains more twists and turns than the Transfagarasan Road in Romina. On the back of this tiny, brightly covered book, the reader is asked, “Do you like ghost stories?” If your answer is yes, read it, and if your answer is no, still read it. With opening lines, “I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it, I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it” the reader is introduced to a young woman amid a career change. She has spent her whole life committing one scam after another. At this point, with carpal tunnel symptoms from a successful three-year career consisting of 23,546 handjobs in the back a psychic shop, she is ready to hang up the towel and move up as the new aura reader for Spiritual Palms. Now that she is an aura reader, her clientele shifts from middle-aged businessmen, who don’t consider handjobs as cheating, to middle-aged desperate housewives. The narrator believes this deception is not all that wrong: it’s purely transactional; they are hearing what they want and ignoring the things they do want. She is giving them the hope and comfort they seek, whether it’s true is moot.
Susan Burke walks in on a rainy day in April, the narrator sums Susan up as a “smart but not creative…conformist…one of the sad ones.” Susan’s life is in disarray. Susan’s family has just moved into town, and because her husband is always away for work, she is left with a stepson who possesses unpleasant behavioral qualities. Susan discloses to the narrator that the house is keeping her awake at night and that she is afraid it is haunting Miles, the stepson. The narrator sees this as a golden opportunity to branch out as a “house cleanser” and offers to visit the home for a price. Susan accepts this offer a little too impetuously. Quickly, the narrator finds herself in a situation that she can’t con her way out of. She begins to question who is evil, if there is even anything she can do about it, or if she also wants to do anything about it.
A merit badge of “great work of contemporary literature” should be sewn with gold thread on a velvet purple sash and presented to Flynn by the Queen. The Grownup is a reality-based story with strong characters and a believable story. Her ability to have character development in such a short amount of time is breathtakingly brilliant. Clues are laid out like a trail left behind by Hansel and Gretel. As you’re gobbling up the goodies, you are unaware that you’re headed in the wrong direction, and that rarely bodes well. We’ve all done that thing where you’re reading a thriller or suspenseful novel and confidently predict what will happen next with astonishing prescience. Well, Flynn is a master in the art of deception, and a common aspect of what makes a novel contemporary is the presence of unreliable narrators; this story has that as well as the unreliable author. She clotheslines you just as you are comfortably nestled in your ideas. Our senses betray us. Just like the women who seek guidance from a palm reader in this story, we read what we want to read, see what we want to see while ignoring Flynn’s impish grin; but Flynn can’t help herself, she can’t just do it to us once. Bam! Bang! Bonk! You’re left sitting on the edge of your couch, questioning everything!!!