Book Summary: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
The Lies We Tell Ourselves
"Thanks to George R. R. Martin, who asked me to write him a story," thanks author Gillian Flynn in her slim short story novella The Grownup. Like her mentor author, Flynn has the ability to pack a punch in a short amount of words, and The Grownup-though a page count of less than one hundred, Flynn shows the same skill as her other famous mind blowing tales Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects.
The beauty in Flynn's character's is seldom do we trust any of them, most pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to survive on meager means playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with the truth.
What little we know about the unnamed narrator of The Grownup, although sometimes referred to as Nerdy, that as most Flynn characters is a woman that grew up extremely poor and used the system until it had used her first starting out of the streets begging with her mother at a young age.
Like Flynn's other novels Dark Places, Sharp Objects, and Gone Girl, the skilled author uses ever one of the her words-every sentence-every page of this under one hundred page novella to weave a story about the most unreliable of characters and the lies that we tell ourselves to get through the day. But who is playing who?
The narrator is a strange woman. She sits on her lunch break at a Palm Reading and Tarot Card place that disguises a sex trade that goes on in the backrooms. The was originally hired to be a "receptionist" until she learned exactly what the work detailed.
She remembers most from her childhood her lazy one eyed mother that would use her to go along to bus stops and beg for money. Mother changed the story day to day: sometimes it was about gas to get her daughter off to a elite charter school, others that her husband was good for nothing and just up and left her with a mouth to feed, although her mother seemed to have a steady stream of boyfriends.
The narrator recalls the filthy apartment of her upbringing, and by the time she reached high school she realized that she could run a scam better than her mother and was often making more money begging that her mother could so she dropped out of the school and moved out of the apartment.
Now working at the Palm Reading shop, and beginning to get carpal tunnel from her occupation- her boss whom only addresses her as Nerdy for her affinity for reading to keep up with the knowledge she had left behind after leaving school; presents her with a new opportunity. The position is to move from being a "receptionist" to out from to con customers as a tarot and palm reader, and our nerdy narrator is up to the challenge.
Her whole life she feels like she has been in customer service, knowing what to tell people by the look in their eyes to scam them out of their money. She can make educated guesses about a person from the way they carry themselves, how they dress. Scamming people as a palm reader should be easier than begging for money on the street she thinks.
A few customers begin to come in and she works her trade, saying the vague things they want to hear. She even finds a customer that she can joke and talk about books with and they exchange a few novels back and forth. Then a strange woman comes into the shop and things begin to get even more complicated for our narrator.
Knowing what to say to people from her years of begging on the street with her mother, the narrator is a natural at pretending to be a psychic, but when a strange customer demands more of her that what she thinks she can give, the real game begins.
A Gifted Psychic
Customer Service is all in saying the right words to please the customer, a skill the narrator has applied to being moved from "receptionist" to a tarot and palm reader in the front of the shop.
When a tear stained woman, Susan arrives one afternoon she clearly states that she doesn't believe in all this and that it was a mistake to come to the shop for help, but our narrator buys this hook-line-and-sinker, gobbling greedily on the bait.
Telling the woman she can help with her woes, the mousy Susan begins to tell a story about her strange house and a stepson that worries her. She says that recently the boy has been acting strange, as if possessed and that blood smears have begin to appear on the ceilings and walls of the home. She claims she fears for her life from the teenager and that she thinks it has something to do with the home their family resides in, a large Victorian estate that the husband uses for his antique trade.
Feeling the greed swell inside her, the narrator quickly feels that she can sell a convincing fix to Susan's problems and soon the mousy woman is a regular customer sharing more and more about her cursed home and the stepson she fears will kill her and her own child.
The narrator begins to make house calls at Susan's estate for $2,000 a visit, where she meets a scared young boy- Susan's son that hides locked away in his room, and Miles- the stepson that Susan is so fearful of.
Upon her visits to the estate, the narrator meets a frightened son of Susan that keeps himself locked away in his room and the mysterious black-eyed stepson, Miles that Susan claims terrorizes the family. The boy is mysterious, but speaks to the narrator several times to explain that he isn't the problem in the home and that it actually Susan that is the reason he keeps his door locked.
The Con Artist
The Grownup, like others of Flynn's works, leaves us unprepared for the journey we are embarking on. In this slim novella, a story unravels about a con woman that has been lured into the ultimate trap- now in guise as a gifted clairvoyant in a haunted home that may have children in danger.
Unsure if Susan is telling the truth about events- or the mysterious boy Miles, the narrator arrives one day to Susan telling her that Miles had cut the tail off the family's ancient cat and was hiding out in his room.
Rather than running, the lure of the money is too much and she presses on, going to Mile's room again where the boy says that it was Susan that who isn't who she pretends to be.
The narrator has found a ghost story online about the former family that lived in the mansion, claiming that the oldest child had the family slain and after telling that to Miles, he scoffs and tells her that Susan created that web page.
Showing a family picture, Miles claims that his father is away on business in Africa and that when Susan realized that he was one of the narrator's customers at the shop as a "receptionist" and then when she moved up front- Susan's anger and jealous created the ruse to get the narrator into the house where she planned to later kill her.
"She found a business card in one my dad's books," Miles says, "She saw you with one of dad's books that first day and that confirmed the truth."
Miles urges the narrator to get him out of the house.
With no thought of the other young son, the narrator and Miles sprint to her car and take off without looking back.
Not far down the road, Miles has a chilling confession: he was the one that had contacted the narrator after finding one of her business cards in his father's books. He never felt at home with Susan and when the family began to have issues due to his visits to the "receptionists" at the shop, Miles claimed that his father stayed away from the home leaving him behind with Susan's wrath.
He claims that he invented the ghost story on the web page and set all the plan in motion to get her to this moment where he would use the narrator to whisk him away to another state where he wanted to attend a paranormal conference.
She considers letting him out of the car, but Miles has now reminded her since taking him from the house- she is now a kidnapper.
But what about Susan's attending the palm reading sessions or her stories about the blood on the walls or the tail of the cat? Miles has simple explanations, saying first that the cat was a Manx- a tailless breed, and that he had planted the other red herrings to keep Susan interested in the employ of the psychic.
Stuck with now being the guardian of Miles, the narrator follows his instructions- and sleeps with heavy objects pushed up against her door.
The Grownup is a magnificent story which still leaves me guessing who exactly played who here. The nerdy narrator is clearly the victim- but to have all the pieces in place for Susan to finance the operation to get the narrator to the home, was she somehow in on it too and this was just a way to get rid of Miles? Is Miles really a sociopath? How about Susan, who still has the other son that locks himself away in his bedroom? Would she harm the other child if she is just as crazy?
Why would Susan tell the story of the cat tail? Was it just a reason to keep the narrator coming back?
Maybe Susan knew like Miles had said, that her husband had visited the "receptionists" and blamed the narrator for the breakup of her relationship and did't care what Miles did to the woman, knowing his tendencies.
I still don't know who I believe in this story, and that is the beauty the flows from all Gillian Flynn novels. I would have loved if it was a full length novel to get a little more information, but the cliffhanger was the perfect way to to out a neat little bow on The Grownup.