The unnamed narrator of this novella is a small time con artist who specializes in aura reading and sensual massage at Spiritual Palms. When Susan Burke hires her to cleanse her Victorian home of negative energy, which she believes is driving her teenage stepson Miles to violence against his new baby brother, our protagonist sees it as a way to make an easy buck and potentially gain some new clients.
But after several harrowing experiences in the Burke home, the psychic realizes that she might have stumbled into a true paranormal haunting, and is definitely over her head.
She researches the previous residents of the house, and is disturbed by tales of horror and violence. But before she can flee the house, leaving the Burkes to their undoubtedly bloody fate, Miles confronts her and informs her that the “haunting” was conjured up by his stepmother–the wife of one of the psychics other clients. He tells her that upon learning of her husbands infidelities, she planned to lure the psychic to their home in order to kill her. Miles offers to help her escape on one condition: that she bring him with her.
The psychic reluctantly agrees. But as they are speeding towards freedom, Miles turns the tables on her once again: it wasn’t really his stepmother’s plan, but his all along. He admits that he really just wanted to get out of the house, and threatens the psychic with a kidnapping charge if she attempts to take him back. She is left uncertain of what to do or what to believe, and is frightened by the thought that Miles could be capable of more sinister plots.
The Grownup was my introduction to Gillian Flynn. All I knew about her before picking up this book were that she tends to write problematic female leads and is know for her twists and surprise endings…and this I only learned secondhand.
What initially drew me to this novella rather than her more well-known books is the fact that it was marketed as a ghost story. I get that this was necessary to preserve the surprise that it isn’t actually a ghost story (probably), but I was still kinda disappointed at the lack of paranormal activity. What I did enjoy was the ambiguous ending–I mean, just who is in charge here?–and the slow building of tension that leaves the psychic with only one apparent way out.
That said, if this was the only Flynn I ever read I think I would enjoy both the story and my life choices a bit more. The double twist is a much more interesting plot device when you aren’t expecting it or are unaware that this construction is a trademark for Flynn.