‘The Grownup:’ Of ghosts and hand jobs

Once again, I find myself at the library pawing through the “New Releases” section and picking up every thin book I see.

I’m in one of my I-gotta-read-more moods and the quickest way to get over it is to come home with a stack of library books and knock them off one by one.

grownupThat’s how I found “The Grownup,” the kind of book that gives new meaning to the adjective “slim.” I opened it up: 62 pages, that’s like two poops for me. I looked at the back cover: You like ghost stories? it asked. Sure, especially ones that are only 62 pages long. Then I looked at the cover: The author’s name was larger than the title of the book, never a good sign. Finally I read the author’s name: Gillian Flynn. Beneath that, in smaller letters: “A story by the author of ‘Gone Girl.’”

So, I put it all together, “The Grownup,” in hardcover no less, is a craven attempt to cash in on Flynn’s popularity after “Gone Girl,” the thriller that had everyone reading but no one talking (not wanting to spoil anything) two years ago. This “story,” according to the cover, is not new and not even a “novella” or “new work” or “undiscovered classic” or any of the other phrases publishers use to sell books that aren’t really, well, books. This story originally appeared with the title “What Do You Do?” in an anthology called “Rogues.” It did win an Edgar Award, though, which they give out to mystery and suspense works.

I briefly wondered what kind of bills Flynn could possibly have that she would agree to recycle this work to pry $9.99 out of her readers’ hands. Then I thought maybe it isn’t her, but her publishers who are putting the squeeze on us. So, I thought: Ha! I’m checking this out of the library, suckers, so none of y’all’s getting my cash. I suggest you do the same.

That’s why I had my hackles up a bit when I sat down to read it. Its opening line is one of the most memorable I’ve ever come across: “I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it.”

You just have to keep reading after that.

The story is about a young con artist who sets herself up as a psychic and gets involved in the life of a family in disturbing ways. The unnamed narrator is engaging and likable, even if she is a grifter, taking advantage of a family in turmoil. The story is funny, tense, quick and, as a bonus, offers a concise primer on hand jobs: (“The key is to not overthink it. If you start worrying about technique, you begin analyzing rhythm and pressure, you lose the essential nature of the act.”)

What it is not, particularly, is original. Not only does she mine most of the old tropes of ghost stories—the scary mansion with a history of murder, the troubled teen who seems affected by the house, a bloody stain on the wall—she also steals from herself. Those who have read “Gone Girl” and “The Grownup” will understand, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Oddly, though, this is one of the few things I’ve read recently that could have been longer. You read that right. I’m always complaining that books, in general, should be shorter, but this story could easily be expanded to a short novel that might be more satisfying. As it is, it’s fun for a little bit, but then you know where it’s going and when you’re done, you can’t help thinking you deserve something a bit more.

Much like a hand job.

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One thought on “‘The Grownup:’ Of ghosts and hand jobs

  1. Pingback: Dive in, the story’s fine | Shelf Improvement

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