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Literature / The Grownup

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A short story written by Gillian Flynn in 2014, but published separately on November 3rd 2015.

A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the "psychic" visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan's terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts any more. Miles, Susan's teenage stepson, doesn't help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it.


This story has examples of:

  • Aloof Older Brother: Miles to Jack, or so the narrative implies.
  • Anti-Hero: The unnamed main character is a con artist. Over the story she grows into a Jerk with a Heart of Gold when despite being a fraud, she admits to care about Susan and her safety.
  • Badass Bookworm: The main character, who loves reading and is a highly intelligent, but uneducated, fraudster.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Miles, implied to be sociopath, has black eyes that the narrator described as spider-like.
  • Bookshelf of Authority: The narrator is proud of herself for knowing all of the books in Susan's very authoritative library of ghost stories, and often daydreams that this is proof she and Susan could become friends. She doesn't figure out until it's too late that she read these exact books thanks to her client Mike...who is Susan's husband. This turns out to be the Chekhov's Gun for multiple characters.
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  • Bratty Teenage Son: The narrator at first believes Miles is a classic example of a bratty teen who causes trouble due to being forced to move to a new place where he doesn't know anybody.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The books at Susan's house. The narrator recognises them all, because the house belongs to Mike, her client.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Mike, one of the narrator's clients, who loves gothic novels. He is actually revealed to be Susan's husband and Miles's absent father. Susan found the narrator's card inside one of his novels and since her husband was a huge supernatural sceptic, she assumed he was involved in an affair. Her visit to Spiritual Palms kicked off the story.
  • Creepy Child: Miles Burke, despite being a fifteen year old, definitely counts as one.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Miles is frequently discovered as pale and dark-haired, at the same time as easily being the creepiest character in the novella. Even the ending doesn't clearly state whether he's a troubled teen neglected by his family or a cunning sociopath.
  • Handicapped Badass: Minor example. The protagonist has severe carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Haunted House: The premise of the story, then spectacularly subverted. As revealed, the blood on the wall was Susan's lie (at least according to Miles), the main character's finger was sliced by a sharp objects hidden underneath the floorboards by Miles and again, the creepy story of the Carterhook family was also made up.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: The narrator insists she only ever gives hand jobs, but she bonds with Mike particularly and becomes genuinely concerned about Susan.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Miles, Susan's creepy stepson, is implied to be a loner.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The protagonist, who is a fraudster and cheater, who generally thinks nothing of scamming people until she bonds with Susan.
  • No Name Given: The protagonist, in the spirit of The Turn of the Screw and other horror stories.
  • Parental Neglect: Miles claims to be neglected by his parents; according to his story Susan is a resentful stepmother who tried to ship him to either a boarding school or his mother (who refused to let her son live with her), while his father constantly travels around the world and barely ever shows up at home.
  • Shout-Out
    • To The Turn of the Screw, a gothic novella by Henry James, which is mentioned by the characters several times. The female narrator is left unnamed and is employed by the family in their haunted house. Miles, Susan's fifteen year old stepson, shares a name with another creepy child that is implied to have something to do with the dark powers in the house.
  • Title Drop: At the end of the story. Miles reveals that he needed a grownup (in this case the narrator) to carry out his escape plan.
  • Troubling Unchild Like Behavior: Miles in spades. Apparently tortures a cat, threatens Susan, and scalds a babysitter.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Miles. When you compare his two stories, the first one being about Susan setting up the whole haunted house masquerade, and the second one, about Miles admitting he's the one responsible for finding the narrator's card and setting up the false story of the Carterhook family, they actually contradict each other.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Miles claims Susan is one by being resentful of her stepson and even attempting to ship him to his mother on one occasion.