Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn Review

This isn’t the setup for a joke: what do you call someone who just gives handjobs – not a prostitute, who does everything else, right? Sex worker? So anyway our nameless narrator is a handywoman who, after giving thousands of handies, now has carpal tunnel syndrome and is thinking of a career move to something that requires less repetitive motion… Luckily (handily?) her place of work also doubles as a psychic reading shop and she decides to begin her career as a fraud, I mean charlatan, I mean psychic! 

There she meets Susan, a distraught mother of two at her wits’ end who believes her Victorian house is haunted – the walls are bleeding! - and that her 15 year old stepson Miles is possessed of a malevolent spirit: Handywoman to the rescue! She doesn’t believe in ghosts, exorcisms, etc. but knows that she’ll make decent scratch pretending to “cleanse” the house. And then she meets mega-creepy Miles and everything changes – maybe true evil does exist? 

Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup is a short story that originally appeared in George R. R. Martin’s Rogues anthology last year and consequently won an Edgar Award for its refreshing and inspired take on the classic haunted house tale. It’s being published by itself in just a few days (not in time for Halloween for some strange reason) and it’s also really good and genuinely scary! 

The first part with the narrator talking about handjobs felt very weird and unusual until you get to the final few pages and realise it’s key to how everything plays out. The misdirection is indicative of the story as a whole – that summary I gave above is not at all how things turn out to be and it’s a good too as what it actually is is even creepier than something generic. 

The one thing that bothered me was that our narrator works in a shop that gives handies to male clients AND psychic readings to female clients – do such places really exist? Because it feels like a creation made purely for this short story to work. It definitely feels contrived because without it the whole tale collapses. Maybe places like this do exist and I’m just not very worldly? 

Otherwise: bravo, Gillian Flynn! The Grownup takes numerous horror genre tropes and spins them into something absolutely brilliant and new. I read it straight through (at night by lamplight, of course!) becoming increasingly beguiled with and drawn into the narrative and loved how Flynn played with our expectations of the characters. You can’t predict where it’s all headed as Flynn deploys her famous story twists that made Gone Girl such a success. If you’re one of those readers who doesn’t like open-endings, you might be peeved at The Grownup’s resolution, but I loved how Flynn left the interpretation up to the reader – what is Miles really and was he telling the truth or not? Has the narrator sealed her fate? What’s real and what’s not? So clever. 

If you can get your hands on a copy of George R. R. Martin’s Rogues, it’s definitely worth seeking out just to read this short story on Halloween – it is perfect for the season! Otherwise, check it out next week when it’s published. It’s easily one of the best, most original horror stories I’ve read in years!

The Grownup

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