Gillian Flynn’s “The Grown Up” (2015)

"The Grown Up", by Gillian Flynn, 2015, Crown Publishers, New York.

“The Grown Up”, by Gillian Flynn, 2015, Crown Publishers, New York.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a cardboard display for a bantam book with an eye-catching dust jacket image. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was the latest effort by author, Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”, 2012). I read the blurb on the inner flap which read (in all-caps) “GILLIAN FLYNN’S EDGAR AWARD-WINNING HOMAGE TO THE CLASSIC GHOST STORY, PUBLISHED FOR THE FIRST TIME AS A STAND-ALONE”. I was intrigued. I hadn’t read her other books, nor had I seen the film based on “Gone Girl”, although I had heard good things about both, so I figured I’d keep an eye out for it at work and give it a whirl, if I ever saw it used.

"Rogues" 2014 Bantam Books

“Rogues” 2014 Bantam Books

Apparently, this was a re-packaging of an earlier effort, which originally appeared under the title “What Do You Do?”, in George R.R. Martin’s Rogues anthology. I had no idea what to expect, honestly, not being familiar with Ms. Flynn’s output, but I had fantasies of maybe having found someone like Susan Hill (“The Woman in Black”), another modern writer with a love of the traditional English ghost stories of M.R. James, who writes brilliantly crafted tales, which would be right at home alongside the masters of the genre in some obscure Edwardian supernatural collection.

A week ago, my co-worker and good friend Denise R pointed out that a used copy had indeed arrived at our store, so I checked it out to read and see what all the fuss was about. Okay, before I continue, I must say that there may be some SPOILERS in the following review, so YOU  HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Let me begin by saying that I enjoyed the story, for the most part, and found the main character amusing. I can see why the general public likes Ms. Flynn’s writing, her characters are interesting and at least this one was likable, despite her many personal faults. That being said, just because one mentions Wilkie Collins, and Henry James in a tale, does not put it in the same league or even the same genre as their respective works. The only connection this tale had with “The Turn of the Screw” or even “The Haunting of Hill House”, was when she name-dropped them within the text of the story.

Not only did she spend several pages of this slender book talking about the protagonists hand-job skills, which although amusing, did not really come into play later on in the story (M.R. James would turn in his grave for this violation of good taste. He saw the inclusion of sexual themes in literature as “…a fatal mistake; sex is tiresome enough in the novels; in a ghost story, or as the backbone of a ghost story, I have no patience with it.”), there was no build up, no atmosphere, and (here it comes, the big reveal)…NO GHOST! What??? There was just a feeling of unease in the “haunted” house, and a creepy boy who seemed modeled after Miles, from “The Turn of the Screw”. What’s worse, is Ms. Flynn pulled the cheap trick of a double-whammy twist ending, à la M. Night Shyamalan! Just when the story seemed to be getting interesting, she pulled an Anne Radcliffe and explained away the terrors that we never really got to see. Boo!

I believe Gillian Flynn should stick with her thrillers, which seem to do nicely, for she does not seem to have a firm grasp of the “Classic Ghost Story” she is supposed to be celebrating here.

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