Who do you get to review an award winning short story? Well I would think our very own short fiction author and anthology editor Kernel Morgan Bell would be the answer. And so it is we have Morgan analysing THE GROWN UP from famed author Gillian Flynn. And ooooooooh ooooooooh a ghost/ haunted house story starring a hand job prostitute psychic – what more could you want? Well read on dear Salty visitor and discover what wonderment Morgan can pull out of this little book :). THE GROWNUP is out now from the folks at Hachette Australia, you will find this one in every bookstore or you can obtain it HERE. Happy Reading…………JK.
BY MORGAN BELL
THE GROWNUP is a short story by Gillian Flynn. Gillian Flynn is one of my favourite contemporary authors. Her novels GONE GIRL, SHARP OBJECTS, and DARK PLACES are all gripping, and wryly narrated. They are frank, disturbing portrayals of modern womanhood, based around violent crimes. THE GROWNUP was written for George R. R. Martin’s anthology ROUGES under an alternate title WHAT DO YOU DO? It won the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Short Story in 2015 from the Mystery Writers of America.
Flynn pays homage to THE WOMAN IN WHITE (the first novel of the mystery genre), THE TURN OF THE SCREW (Henry Jame’s gothic ghost novella), and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (Shirley Jackson’s haunted house novella) by literally naming them. They are book titles found in the library of the Carterhook Manor, the primary setting of THE GROWNUP.
This is a tiny book of only 80 pages, marketed as a novella. I love little skinny books, and I read this one quickly. It has an intriguing hook, a fast pace, a mystery – we were in for either a haunted house like THE SHINING or an evil child like THE GOOD SON – and a double twist ending. I wanted to read it, it was an enjoyable easy read, it is compelling, but unfortunately it is not a great short story.
THE GROWNUP feels like a novel-writer trying to pack a novel-length idea into a short word limit. It is rare for me to say that a written work should have been longer, but in this case the short length gave inadequate character development and led to a ton of dialogue exposition that just felt rushed and inauthentic and ultimately unfulfilling.
As a novelist Flynn has twice utilised the alternate-chapter narrator technique to build suspense and unravel truths. Her shortest novel SHARP OBJECTS uses the single perspective of an investigative journalist returning to her home town to question locals, including her own family, about the disappearance of young girls. A cavalcade of red herrings are presented, and we learn so much about toxic relationships between women on our journey to uncovering the real killer – a revelation that comes in a final twist in the epilogue. SHARP OBJECTS is my favourite of Flynn’s works. THE GROWNUP, also a single perspective, had the potential to be expanded into something equally as great as SHARP OBJECTS. It just didn’t have the page space to really draw out the psychological intricacies of the characters.
THE GROWNUP uses the voice an unnamed female narrator to direct the entire story. The narrator starts with explaining she is a sex worker – whose only service is hand jobs – working at the back of a psychic shop called Spiritual Palms (an amusing irony). “Tarot cards and crystal balls up front, illegal soft-core sex work in the back.” The narrator makes her way to the front of the shop with a claim that she can see auras and tell fortunes because “when you give 23,546 hand jobs over a three-year period, carpal tunnel syndrome is a very real thing.”
This story has all the hallmarks of classic Flynn, unexpectedly candid and fresh descriptions – the narrator’s boss Viveca is described as “a heavy woman, like an octopus – lots of beads and ruffles and scarves floating around her, along with the big scent of cologne. She has hair dyed the color of fruit punch and insists it’s real.” – that invigorate all the senses and immediately take shape off the page, and unabashedly flawed female characters with psychologically gritty pasts. In this story the narrator recalls a childhood of pan-handling on street with her mother and targeting certain kinds of sympathetic people.
I would recommend reading THE GROWN UP because it is fun. However it is not a great example of the short story craft. Towards the end there is a lot of telling – literally telling, one character verbosely spilling all their evil plans and motivations in a giant monologue – instead of showing. There was a lot of exposition from the narrator in the beginning, setting up her situation and background. Character backgrounds are what Flynn does best. Her character’s have such unique starts in life. She really is a character writer. But in a novel she can gracefully weave those background stories into to the unfurling current plot. Here is it like a dump and run. I didn’t empathise with the narrator like I did with Amy Dunn, Libby Day, or Camille Preaker. Manipulators, kleptomaniacs, self-harmers.
In THE GROWNUP the child character of Miles Burke had huge potential. His voice was a little sophisticated for his given age of fifteen, but I would love to read something from Flynn written from Miles’ perspective. He is described as having black eyes, a “thicket of dark hair covering his eyes”, terrorising babysitters and cats, standing in the window sill like a creeper and suddenly disappearing in a blur. I want to know more about that guy.
Kernel Morgan is an author of short fiction, an anthology editor, and a technical writer. Her debut collection was SNIGGERLESS BOUNDULATIONS. She enjoys scowling at children and bursting bubbles. She can be tweeted and stalked at @queenboxi.