Short Take: No Gone Girl.
Is it me, or is every book coming out lately with a female lead of questionable motives being hailed as “The Next Gone Girl”? Is that annoying to anyone else? Gone Girl is in a class of its own. It was a brilliant social satire disguised as a mystery, and was excellent for a whole lot of reasons, not just because of the rare appearance of (spoiler alert!) a female sociopath. So can we all just agree that the only Gone Girl is Gone Girl, and get on with our lives? I’m really sick and tired of having my emotions toyed with by publishers who want to make money off of something that’s not even remotely like what they are marketing.
The Girl On The Train is yet another “next Gone Girl”, except for, you know, it totally isn’t.
Once upon a time, Rachel was married to Tom, and it was a lovely marriage, until Rachel’s infertility, depression, and alcoholism drove him into the arms of Anna. He divorced Rachel, and now he and Anna and their baby daughter live in the house that used to be Rachel’s. Rachel is still drinking heavily, obsessing over Tom, and riding the train, daily, past their house. It’s another lovely couple that catches her attention, though. In her mind, she calls them Jason and Jess, and they are frequently outside where she can see them clearly when the train makes a stop.
They look like everything she no longer has.
One night, Rachel drinks WAY more than usual, and has decided to confront her ex-husband Tom. Or maybe she’s going to tell “Jason” (real name: Scott) that she has seen “Jess” (actually, Megan) kissing someone else. There’s a whole booze-logic thing working there, and the next day, Rachel can’t remember exactly what her intentions were in going to that neighborhood, or what happened there, but she’s got some new and interesting cuts and bruises, and Megan has disappeared.
From there, the story is mostly a typical mystery novel. Other than multiple unreliable and extremely unlikeable narrators, there’s not much new ground. Rachel, Megan, and Anna all have behaved selfishly, wretchedly, and have plenty of reasons to skew the narrative in their favor. Rachel trying to insinuate herself into the investigation via Megan’s husband Scott, using his shock and grief to her advantage, is unconscionable. Anna is the mistress-turned-wife who seems far happier at having broken up a marriage than in being married to the man herself. And Megan… she is the only one I felt any sympathy at all for, but even that was tempered by my revulsion at her need to destroy things.
While plenty of other mystery novels have used memory loss as a plot point, I don’t know of many who captured the perfect wretchedness of alcoholism this well. When Rachel wakes up after a blackout, the sick, panicky, guilty feelings she has are familiar to any of us who have gone way past our limits before. Her drinking even when she has promised she won’t, even when it will clearly cause problems, even when it will cost her even more than she’s already lost, is both pathetic and maddeningly realistic. But at the same time, it seems like she has a blackout whenever it will be convenient for the plot, and even when she’s sober, she makes such skull-slammingly stupid decisions, it’s hard to see her as anything but ridiculous.
The story is okay, and like I said, the whole alcoholic blackout aspect of it was handled competently, but The Girl On The Train lacks the kind of blistering commentary that made Gone Girl such a phenomenon. Where Gone Girl spits at a whole bunch of misogynistic stereotypes, The Girl On The Train revels in them. We have women being catty and cruel to each other over a man. Women who are helpless little victims of their own shallow, selfish desires. Women who believe fervently that the right man could fix their lives for them. In fact, the only non-terrible female character is Rachel’s roommate, Cathy, and she’s mostly treated as a rather stupid obstacle.
What’s funny is, I might have enjoyed this book a lot more if the Amazon page weren’t demanding that I compare it to Gone Girl. That’s a comparison that’s unfair to pretty much any book. So publishers? Cut it out already.
The Nerd’s Rating: TWO HAPPY NEURONS