As a fan of Gone Girl, I was looking forward to reading Gillian Flynn’s short story The Grownup (published in October 2015). As a short story writer myself, I want to read more short stories to really understand how they are developed, crafted, and presented. And, as an Edgar-winning short story, I suspected this would be a specifically strong example of a modern horror short story.
Flynn’s story begins strongly, with an unnamed narrator who appears to be a psychic reader but gives handjobs for cash in the back of her shop. With this duality from the outset, Flynn expertly sets up the expectation that nothing is as it seems and everyone has a secret life hidden from plain view. Her psychic readings lead her to Susan Burke, a woman that Flynn’s narrator begins to pigeonhole as an inherently unhappy and unstable woman that is fashioning a more exciting life for herself. When the narrator visits Susan’s Victorian home and encounters her teenage stepson, she soon becomes involved in a plot reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw complete with twists.
I don’t want to give away too much but the ending is certainly a let down as the story seems to end mid-scene with no resolutions or answers. I’m sure this was Flynn’s intention and I usually like open endings but I found this to be more frustrating than rewarding. What the story does do, however, is present a masterclass in how to create atmosphere and how to write extremely paranoid characters that, in turn, makes the reader mistrust everything they read. This is, after all, what Flynn does best.