Reading Life: Thrilling Women Writers

About a month ago my husband and I watched Gone Girl directed by David Fincher, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. I rarely ever see an adaptation before reading the book, but I was excited to see it and enjoyed the film. A few days later I borrowed Gillian Flynn’s best-seller from my friend Sarah. As despicable as the main characters were I absolutely loved them as well as the novel’s structure. I think it is easy for first-person accounts to grow tiresome, but the husband and wife were engaging storytellers. After Gone Girl, I was anxious to read another thrilling crime novel. I quickly turned to The Girl On the Train by Patricia Hawkins. 

The blurbs on the cover compare Hawkins’ to Gone Girl although that isn’t necessarily why I picked up a copy of her book. I was more intrigued by the title, opening sentence, and the “Hitchcockian” comparison briefly posed on the inside flap. The strongest similarity to Flynn’s novel is the structure- first-person accounts that alternate between key characters. Hawkins’ novel is a bit more difficult to follow as she employs specific dates and part of day. I found myself occasionally returning to previous sections in order to maintain my knowledge of a character’s whereabouts; it was not cumbersome, but mostly fun to invest time in discovering the killer. The primary character, Rachel, is an alcoholic who takes a train into London each day even though she has lost her job due to her addiction. There are moments where her voice is unbearably needy, but as the novel continues and the mystery unravels, she has moments of strength unfueled by liquid courage. Although I found the novel puzzling, it was somewhat predictable at a certain stage in my reading.

I don’t write a lot of fiction, mostly poetry and essay, but when I attempt fiction it takes me forever to complete a short story. I don’t find this frustrating, and I enjoy the challenge when in the mood. Reading these two women writers got me thinking and reflecting on one of my own first-person short stories that I wrote a couple of years ago. It’s only been rejected four times so far, but I think I figured out a major issue with my character’s development (I don’t necessarily maintain her voice throughout the story). And the story is not finished. I thought it was, but it isn’t. Reading the work of Flynn and Hawkins helped me ‘see’ what I was trying to do and why I did not succeed. I look forward to working on my story with fresh eyes.

As far as what I’m reading next? I already started one of Flynn’s other novels, Dark Places and on deck is The Distance by Helen Giltrow and Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell (I love Shirley Jackson!) I look forward to reading these books, although I might take a break for some poetry in between.  Have you read anything recently that made you reflect back on your own work? I’d love to hear about it!

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