By Gillian Flynn
Genre: Short Story/Fiction
A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it.
*Disclaimer – this book contains some sexual content so this review may not be for everyone.
The GrownUp was gifted to me last night actually, by a dear friend. Small in stature and unexpectedly in my hands, I decided to dive into this one blindly. This is my second experience with Gillian Flynn’s work. My first of course being Gone Girl. I think most of us have read it. The latter was a fun read, but it didn’t resonate with me. While enjoyable, in the end the predictability took too much away. But I also knew that the author’s writing agreed with me to an extent. Such was the case with The GrownUps.
This is a short title that I actually struggle to describe. I was thrown off by the sexual content in the beginning. But it is not the focus of the story and I did not find it abrasive.
We follow the narrator and main, unnamed female lead as she is nearing the end of her career in hand jobs (yes you read that correctly) and transitioning into a position of aura reading for her current employer Viveca with Spiritual Palms, where they happen to offer a variety of services. We will just say they tailor to the needs of many.
The narrator does actually happen to have a talent when it comes to reading people. So when Susan Burke walks into Spiritual Palms, she immediately picks up on her distress. It turns out the Susan is concerned her stepson is behaving dangerously odd and that their Victorian home may be at fault. For a fee, our narrator agrees to pay several visits to the home and meet Miles, the stepson in question. She begins an attempt to cleanse the home. Here is where our narrator discovers that Susan and Miles are definitely in distress and possible danger as a series of chilling events begin to unwind.
The GrownUp was absolutely nothing I could have expected. Even if I had read this blurb beforehand, I would still have been unprepared. Our narrator is very raw, at times to the point of being vulgar. But in reality, maybe she is not so vulgar as she accepting of the life she has been raised into. I guess this depends on your definition of “vulgar” and limitations. I use the word loosely here, as I am not easily disturbed.
Having grown up with a mother who taught her to survive by begging, she spent a few days each week on the streets summing up individuals to panhandle. She was taught to play the role, and it was here that she learned to really hone the skill of reading others. She quickly developed the ability to decipher strangers and what they did and didn’t want. It was a means of survival.
We are quickly given a thorough background that brings us to a more solid understanding of just how she has landed herself in her current choice of career. She seems comfortable with her decisions. While I did not connect with her, I appreciated her almost disturbingly honest approach to each situation. She was confident and a straight shooter. For instance she openly discusses her occupation in an unexpectedly frank manner that was not without some refreshing humor:
“I would rather be a librarian, but I worry about job security. Books may be temporary; dicks are forever.”
― Gillian Flynn,
And why she now reads auras..
“I quit because when you give 23,546 hand jobs over a three-year period, carpal tunnel syndrome is a very real thing.”
― Gillian Flynn,
I was completely caught off guard and initially baffled. What am I reading? Where is this going? But at only 60 pages, it is rather ridiculous not to see this through. Plus I was curious 😉
So she grew on me during our small time together. No, I have no great love of this character/narrator, but she worked. We will settle for the fact that I liked her to a certain extent. If there is anything I can appreciate, it is honesty. But you can imagine my confusion and joy as the story slowly shifted gears and I found myself in the middle of what was developing into a haunted house tale. Or was it?
I did not care for Susan or Miles. I just honestly did not like them as people in general. They both had a lot of baggage and felt weak. The first contact with Susan and Miles was somewhat bland. But things were beginning to happen, and they were a key part of the equation.
I was trying to wrap my brain around everything. And suddenly it was there. That magical bit of talent I have heard many readers exclaim is one of the author’s greatest. A twist! A connection that I felt like a complete idiot for not having made.
The writing was inviting and drew me further with each page. The world building was incredibly vivid for such a brief moment. The atmosphere was enticing yet foreboding at times. I was absorbed into the descriptions of this mysterious Victorian home and our narrator’s time there.
“And yet, I felt it too: the house. Not necessarily malevolent, but…mindful. I could feel it studying me, does that make sense? It crowded me. One day, I was wiping down the floorboards, and suffered a sudden, slicing pain in my middle finger – as if I’d been bitten – and when I pulled it away, I was bleeding. I wrapped my finger tightly in one of my spare rags and watched the blood seep through. And I felt like something in the house was pleased.”
― Gillian Flynn,
This short story ramped up the pace in a rather fast time period. It was nearly over before I realized it had started. Did it blow me away? No. I found myself questioning the ending and unsure that I was satisfied. But that is also the very reason that I would consider this to be a clever piece of work. Left to my own devices, I am know this one will linger for several days. It is still turning within. Yet it was simply lacking just the little extra that could have really taken this to the next level. The ending was rush, sadly. All in all, it was an entertaining experience and I enjoyed my time. I believe I clocked in at around 30 minutes with this one.
An interesting additional piece of information to note regarding The Grownup is that this title originally appeared in the short story collection Rogues in 2014 under the title of What Do You Do? Rogues features a collection of shorts by some amazing authors that was compiled and edited by none other than George R. R. Martin and award-winning editor Gardner Dozois. You can find an excerpt and additional information on PenguinRandomHouse.com here.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐