Review: The Grownup

This is a short story and it’s an excellent use of first person.

Short Story
Twisted, creepy read!

The Grownup

By Gillian Flynn

©2014

Crown Publishing

Pages: 62

First Person, Past tense

This is a rare instance. A moment where the characters are despicable (pardon my sounding like Daffy Duck) and the opening profession is not something I would care about. Usually, a book like this I would toss aside. But this twisted short story is quite a treat.

It was really hard finding a passage that wouldn’t give much away and that showcased the great use of first person.

From pg. 36

Mostly I came during the day, when the kids were at school and Susan was at work. I did cleanse the house in that I washed it. I lit my sage and sprinkled my sea salt. I boiled my lavender and rosemary, and I wiped down that house, walls and floors, and then I sat in the library and read. Also, I nosed around. I could find a zillion photos of grinning-sunshine jack, a few old ones of pouty Miles, a couple of somber Susan and none of her husband. I felt sorry for Suan. An angry stepson and a husband who was always away, no wonder she let her mind go to dark places. 

And yet. And yet, I felt it too: the house. Not necessarily malevolent, but…mindful. I could feel it studying me, does that make sense? It crowded me.

So here’s the thing. When you first open the book you are met with a character who talks about how great she is giving hand jobs. Those just aren’t my kind of books. I don’t care about romance and sex, I want mystery, suspense, thriller, creepy, demented. 

But this book, people. This book!  It stayed with me. The last three paragraphs were perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that closed so perfectly. I didn’t know how I’d like the book to end, but that was great.

Another tick on the against side for this book, I didn’t like Gone Girl. I’m quite possibly the only person who didn’t like it, but yeah…I didn’t like it. So it takes me a little bit to remind myself that sometimes an author can blow you away even if you think you don’t like them.

LESSON: Don’t judge an author by one book! Ms. Flynn is pretty darn good (yes, I’m late to the party)!

At the end of the year I’m going to recap my favorite books for different points of view and there’s a really high chance this will be number one.

POV Review – I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

This is the first book I’ve ever read where all POVs are used: First person, Second person, and Third Person (limited).

I Let You Go (Debut Novel – it always thrills me to read debuts)

by Clare Mackintosh

UK Publisher: Sphere ©2014

US Publisher: Berkley ©2016

Agent Sheila Crowley

Let’s jump right into this. Three POVs. I haven’t read a book that has done this before, I’m not saying it hasn’t been done, I’m just I haven’t read one like this before. A nice treat.

There are three narrators: Jenna who is in first person, present tense, Detective Ray who is in third person present tense, and I’m not naming the third narrator written in past tense and whose POV is, upon further inspection it’s first person with a twist of second person. I know, weird to explain, but interesting how it’s used.  So let’s get into the examples so you understand what I mean.

Example of Jenna, first person/ present tense, from page 124 –

         I sit at the kitchen table in front of my laptop, my knees drawn up underneath the big cable-knit sweater I used to wear in my studio in the winter months. I’m  right next to the range, but I’m shaking, and I pull the sleeves down over my hands. It’s not even lunchtime, but I have poured myself a large flass of red wine. I type into the search engine, then pause.

Honestly, not my favorite kind of first person “I sit…I pull…I type….” However, this paragraph is an anomaly. For the most part, with this character, it’s not that bad.  With this character I don’t get fully immersed in feeling for her, solely because of that arms-length style writing. Even though it’s a bit smoother in other parts, it still keeps me at a distance.

Example of Detective Ray Stevens, third person/ present tense, from page 7 –

          Ray stretched out a hand for the piece of paper and scanned it while Kate stood awkwardly in the doorway. 

The third person is limited only because we get Ray’s POV, not Kate’s, not anyone else’s.  I realize I forgot to get an example from the book so I’m making one up here. “Ray thought this workload was overwhelming.” Third person in Ray’s head, but limited because we aren’t getting “Kate, also, thought the work was overwhelming.” If we did have that POV, it would be unlimited third person.

Example of Unnamed Narrator – first person/second person twist, in past tense, from page 206.

          I had worried that giving you a key may have been a mistake…

Another example from the same page:

          I looked at the food laid out on the work surface…. You must have spent all afternoon getting it ready.

So we have two present tense POVs and one past tense POV. It definitely distinguishes who’s up at the narrator bat. Works. I think I only recall one snafu which happens at the end of one of the Unnamed narrator’s chapter and the beginning of the next chapter with the Jenna first person POV.  The next chapter begins vaguely and has a “you” so it takes a moment to process who is talking and where we are. But it’s brief.

All in all an interesting way to break up mulitple points of view.

And Clare has another book recently released on my “must read” list: I See You 

What do you think of different POVs in one story?

NEXT WEEK: Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

POV Review – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Oh my word, how come I never read this book before now? Everyone says this is such a sad story. If you don’t know any better, it has the requisite ups and bottom of the barrel depths of despair before the main character climbs back up again.  Here’s what makes it sad: The story is (loosely – although parts don’t sound that loose) based on Plath’s life. Plath committed suicide, so when you read it and know that outcome you know the main character didn’t fully make it out of the dark depths. That is where the story is heart-breaking.

The Bell Jar

by Sylvia Plath

Publisher: Harper and Row

©1971

Re-Published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics in 2006

The story is told in the first person present and past tense.

Example of past to present from Pg. 3

          I realized we kept piling up these presents because it was as good as free advertising for the firms involved, but I couldn’t be cynical. I got such a kick out of all those free gifts showering onto us. For a long time afterward I hid them away, but later, when I was all right again, I brought them out, and I still have them around the house. I use the lipsticks now and then, and last week I cut the plastic starfish off the sunglasses case for the baby to play with. 

The above paragraph takes to a moment in her past and then brings it smoothly to the present with “I still have them around the house…”

Example of a line speaking volumes – Pg. 4

          I guess one of my troubles was Doreen.

One sentence and yet, there is so much buried in it, how can you not want to know more?

Example of a very well told first person POV – Pg. 4

          I’d never known a girl like Doreen before. Doreen came from a society girl’s college down South and had bright white hair standing out in a cotton candy fluff round her head and blue eyes like transparent agate marbles, hard and polished and just about indestructible, and a mouth set in a sort of perpetual sneer. I don’t mean a nasty sneer, but an amused, mysterious sneer, as if all the people around her were pretty silly and she could tell some good jokes on them if she wanted to.

Example – a longer version of first person POV (and quite possibly the most amazine three paragraphs that sum up anxiety so well). Pg. 77

         I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

          From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.

          I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Yeah, kind of at a loss for words. That is the kind of first person writing I want to do. Put someone in the crook of that fig tree and make them feel like they are there, they are the “I” in the story. They are doing without being told a bunch of “I climbed and sat in the fig tree. I looked up and each fig represented a life that I couldn’t decide whether I wanted or not.”

So summed up, this is the first person writing that makes me swoon. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be literary, it just has to put me there and make me feel like I am the MC. But it has to do so with the finesse of trust that, I, as the reader understand the situation with a play-by-play run down.

This book is totally on my “Must Own List.”

A fun link: The Barbizon Hotel – this is a story on the hotel featured in the beginning of the story and also featured in a part of Ms. Plath’s life.

How do you feel about the first person point of view in this story?

NEXT WEEK: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce

Pull Me Under

by Kelly Luce

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

©2016

261 pages

Agent: Katherine Fausset

Editor: Emily Bell

Genre: Literary with a soft mystery bent as to why things happened

Pull Me Under is about a lady (hafu – half Japanese, half American – bonus, learned a new word) who killed a classmate when she was younger and living in Japan (No worries, I’m not giving anything away. The first page is a prologue disguised as an excerpt from a news magazine and it covers the murder).  She served the time (noticing a theme in my first two picks in my new blog direction) and is now married with a child herself.  She must return to Japan for her father’s funeral and it’s through this that we learn about the past and she learns about herself.

Fun fact: my first Book of the Month book. Squueee!

Alright back on track. I really loved this book. Part of the appeal for me is deciphering what is real and what is for the story, especially in a culture different from what I know. For example there is talk of a pilgrimage around twelve temples…and that is real, which gives me something to research and learn about.  When I can learn through fiction, that’s always a joy. Ms. Luce weaves some Japanese words into the story and it’s a beautiful treat.

The book is written in the first person POV. What I find fascinating is that Ms. Luce has the story very well balanced between past and present tense. Usually one tense takes precedence, but I felt it flowed evenly between the two and I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Excerpt from page 5, which is the first paragraph after the prologue. This is first person done exceptionally well, in my opinion.

      “Kawano Juvenile Recovery Center occupied a compound originally built to house orphaned A-bomb survivors. It was turned into a detention center for juvenile deliquents during the seventies. Some kids claimed the bomb survivors had brought radition with them and infected the place, that no one could recover there, but for me it became home. I was twelve when I arrived, and I didn’t leave until my twentieth birthday.”

I love that she didn’t start the first paragraph with “I” followed by some action. This is difficult, I’ve struggled with it myself and gag everytime I read seven of my sentences in a row that begin with “I”. Ms. Luce has this down.

Another thing that Ms. Luce has done well is a smooth flow from past and present. She doesn’t lose you. By this I mean, sometimes you’re reading a book and the character jumps back in the past and next thing you know the character is in the present and you have to go back a few pages to find where this happened.  That does not happen in this book.  Sometimes in stories the transition from past to present is so obvious it’s jarring. That does not happen in this book. All transitions are smooth and clear.

I would love to include an excerpt of a section to show the smoothness between past and present, but I fear that doing so would cross over into a gray area of what is an acceptable amount to quote from a book. So if you’re looking for a book that does the flow well, I highly recommend this one.

Some Fun Links:

The Shikoku Pilgrimage 

Author site for Kelly Luce

Onigiri – a treat she describes in the book that I want to try. Not a fan of seaweed, but the plum and rice sound oh so good. This link takes you to a blog of what I’m guessing is the same item, in the same wrapping.

NEXT WEEK: Wylding Hall by Elzabeth Hand