-Ending Strikes Back-
I read this short story waiting to get picked up from the hotel in Thailand. It is only a small story and such an easy read, so it took less than an hour. It was gripping from the get go, due to the introduction of the protagonist. The points of view within the book divert your attention to the different characters, creating a strange outcome for the story. The ambiguous ending leaves you unsure of which point of view to end up following, so I do not know what did happen. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story which leaves the audience battling a series of enigmas, but it would have been nice to have some clarification, so that we do not have to completely figure it out on our own. I feel like Flynn can never master the perfect ending for me! She can master the sinister element in her books to a ‘T’, but the endings just bring the stories down. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of this short story is fantastic, it is the disappointing ending that I expected more from.
Gillian Flynn is the author of bestsellers Gone Girl and Dark Places. The Grownup originally appeared in one of George R. R. Martin’s novels. Flynn dedicated the book to ‘George R. R. Martin who asked her to write him a story.’ Flynn has won awards for her novel Sharp Objects and a film adaptation has been made for both Dark Places and Gone Girl. Gone Girl reached 10 million sales worldwide. The Grownup has also won The Edgar Award for Best Short Story in 2015.
The Grownup is written in first person. We read from the perspective of an unnamed woman, who seems a little ‘stuck’ at life. She is quite alike to the character ‘Amy’ in Gone Girl with her manipulative ways. The woman pleasures men in the back of a fake masseuse parlour. She also moonlights as a fake psychic for extra cash. I love the whole characterisation of the protagonist, who is never named. She works in ‘Spiritual Palms’ that offers dodgy pleasures in the back. The character is proud that she can offer this to men and she is confident and says she is the best. It is quite a different concept to read that she is proud of herself and looks at sex in such a relaxed manner, as it is her ‘norm’, it is her way of bringing money in. We all must be good at something and this is hers, and she is ok with that.
The woman lands herself in a situation where she must visit a creepy ‘haunted’ Victorian mansion, where all the ghost stories now seem real. It is very typical of Flynn to start with a manipulative woman getting herself in obscure situations. Susan, the woman we meet who brings her to this house, is like this too. She manipulates the narrator into coming to her house and evicting whatever ghostly presence is there. It is strange that Susan has such a strong presence within the story and is even giving a name, yet the narrator whom the story is based around and follows is never giving a name. The significance of this suggests that she does not attach herself to anyone, we do not need to know her name to know her. She comes and goes and meets new people everyday and with her job she cannot be giving out her real name anyway. She is happy doing what she does and being a nobody to everyone, yet Susan is someone who has no motive and has become trapped within a married life she did not want.
Susan Burke walks into ‘Spiritual Palms’ and tells our narrator about her haunted house and her uncontrollable step son. He has all the conventions of a typical murderer in a story like this. I feel like it seems something sinister is happening as the haunted mansion and the psychotic step son all seems a little ‘easy’. Here is a thrilling short story handed to you on a plate and Flynn always seems to have a trick up her sleeve. You know it is going to be something different and not how the narrator or the characters are making it seem. From when she enters the house and the sinister things begin to happen, the tone of the story seems to change. The psychological change creates an illusion of mystery when the step son begins to talk about how it is Susan who is the crazy character. She is the one that set up all this insane plan because the narrator had pleasured her husband at ‘Spiritual Palms’. After learning a lot about the step son from other characters, as a reader we do not trust him but seem to trust the narrator, even though we shouldn’t. At this point the narrator seems confused and starts to believe the step son yet keeps her guard up. We do not trust the narrator because all narrators are unreliable but out of all the characters introduced to us, the narrator is the one we started the story with, so we tend to just agree with her judgement at this point.
In the end, she decides to take the step sons word for it. She runs away from Susan and the house with the step son and we, as readers, are still unsure about the step son. It seems strange that a character introduced to us as a very confident, independent woman cannot just walk away from the situation and ends up running off with a teenager who could have potentially made up a story about his step mother. The main mystery of the whole story is this irritating ambiguous ending. I do like an ending where you can guess what is going to happen and there is a twist or you can assume what could have happened but I think Flynn does leave this ending too wide. Was the step son lying? Was Susan lying? Was the house haunted? The readers are literally left with no help or clue to what happened. It was very irritating as a reader because 2/3 of the book was so good! The rest of the story was fantastic, amazing characterisation and the description and mystery within really worked. The thrilling aspect is written in true Flynn style and the twists are really interesting and unexpected. I think this is one of her better books, I loved Gone Girl but hated Sharp Objects. If you are a fan of her books, give this a try! It will not take you long, what are you waiting for?