Friday, July 31, 2015

Microreview [book]: What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn (Rogues #2)

 Short Story #2 in the Rogues anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Well, I didn’t particularly care for this one. But Gillian Flynn, in case you didn't know (which I didn't), is the author of the book and then film adaption Gone Girl and I don't think my opinion will effect her career at all so I'll just go ahead and tell you all how I really feel about the story...not that I normally hold back anything anyway, now that I think about it. 

What Do You Do? is the story of a woman who was raised poor and taught to beg, but now makes a pretty good living for herself through less than reputable means. She goes from begging with her mother to working in the sex industry to moving laterally into the front office as a psychic/con artist. And while the narrator believes that she is a con artist in this respect, there are hints throughout the story that she is perhaps more than she seems, as she is able to see and feel auras and can give detailed descriptions of strangers’ personal characteristics. One of her front office customers, a woman named Susan, expresses her fear that something is wrong with her ‘evil’ stepson, potentially stemming from the ‘evil’ house they just moved into. The narrator sees an opportunity in this and agrees to help by coming to ‘cleanse’ the house twice a week for 6 months and $1200. While in the house the narrator encounters the Eddie Munster-like stepson who releases blood curling screams, threatens to kill her, and vomits in her purse. So far, what we’ve got here is a fast-paced and easily readable recount of an X-Files episode. So yadda yadda blood on the wall and all the usual stuff and then BAM! A twist! Stepson corners the narrator and explains that really, it’s Susan who wants to kill her because she found out that she was giving hand-jobs to her husband Mike (who happens to be our narrator’s favorite client) and now Susan is coming after narrator and stepson since she hates the stepson because, ya know, child of anotha motha.

This twist is full of holes and not at all believable. I mean, what working professional basically single parent (dad’s always traveling you see…well, at least when he’s not off getting hand jobs) has time to go to flea markets and rummage through boxes of old pictures until they find one with a family of four with a boy who looks like stepson and then use that picture to create a fake website full of fake history that will come up readily in an online search for their house? Not to mention, why did the kid puke in our narrator’s purse? Oh right, because he thought it would be fun to go on with the ruse for a while. Yeah, that’s believable. Anyway.  So our narrator buys this BS and ‘rescues’ stepson from now evil Susan and wait, what’s that? It’s another twist! Thats right, we have now gone from the short story version of an X-Files episode to the short story version of an M. Night Shymallama film. Oh yaaaaaaaaay.

Anyway, so the second twist turns out that stepson really is evil. Well, maybe not evil, but he’s definitely a little shit. He’s the one who found out about dad, he’s the one who made the website, and he may have cut off the cat’s tail but we’re not sure because the cat may have been a Manx. 

And now he’s playing the ‘you’re a kidnapper and I can get out of the car and make a phone call and you won’t leave because you’re a kidnapper now’ card. Which makes no sense to me. The explanation given for why our trusty narrator doesn’t just pop this kid in the face and go on her merry way is that since she engages in less than reputable employment opportunities she must have a criminal record so no one will believe her side of the story if he turns her in for being a kidnapper. Okay, perhaps this is true, but….how is he going to turn her in? He doesn’t even know her real name. I don’t even know her real name. Susan probably doesn’t even know her real name. She’s already quit giving hand jobs pretty much and I don’t think a person who has made their living begging and conning and hand jobbing is really worried about having to quit her job as a phony(ish) psychic to avoid being found. I don’t buy any of this.

The worst part of it all is that our narrator is quite a good character. Sure, she engages in acts that may not be the most socially acceptable, but since when has that been a reliable judge of character? She makes a good living for herself. She’s hard working, ambitious, and smart. She has control over her own destiny…or did at least until twist number two. Now, all of a sudden, all of her agency is lost. She is unable AND unwilling to get herself out of this (minor IMO) situation and spends the last few pages of the story trying to convince herself to allow this fool to manipulate her and to like her new situation, instead of trying to get herself out of it.

So all in all, What Do You Do? is probably worth skipping. It’s very well written, don’t get me wrong. It's an engrossing and fast-paced read, but the whole story is just contrived, in every definition of the word. The only thing that saves this story is that it's short, so I only really had time to get slightly annoyed after 40 pages rather than extremely infuriated after suffering through 400.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 5/10

Bonuses: +1 for writing style, which really was quite good.

Penalties: -1 for taking away narrator's agency, -1 for leaving way too many holes in the story to make the twists and the narrator's acceptance of the explanations even remotely believable 

Nerd Coefficient: 4/10 (not very good)

Posted by: Tia   who is currently discovering the joy of the short story anthology

Reference: Flynn, Gillian. What Do You Do? From: Rogues, Eds. George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois [Bantam Spectra, 2014]