Wednesday

Book review: "The Girl on the Train"

There's been only one time I drank enough to black out. It was during my bachelorette party. I was shocked to hear the next morning about how I'd climbed into bed, slammed against the wall and caused a small decorative mirror to fall on my head. A minor incident, but it's unsettling to have absolutely no memory of stuff I said and did.

But the protagonist's blackouts hide something far more dangerous than an embarrassing anecdote in Paula Hawkins's runaway best-seller The Girl on the Train.



Every day, barely functional alcoholic Rachel rides the same train that she commuted on before she was fired. It goes past the home she used to share with her husband, Tom, who now lives there with his mistress turned second wife/babymama, Anna. It also goes past the home of a young, attractive couple. In her heartbreak, Rachel envisions a perfect, dazzling marriage for the unknown twosome she gets passing glimpses of, even creating names, jobs and backstories in her head for the pair.

One day, Rachel sees something shocking. Soon after, the woman she's been admiring from the train disappears. Rachel thinks she knows something that can help, but what she doesn't know — what she can't remember — is the mystery within the mystery. The missing piece that could solve or destroy everything.

Let's get this out of the way, because everyone and their mother is comparing this to Gone Girl. It's an easy comparison to make. Both have multiple unreliable narrators — Rachel, Anna, and the missing woman, Megan — a disappearance, relationships that aren't at all what they seem, and just-one-more-chapter-oh-crap-it's-3-a.m. levels of suspense. Gone Girl is more cerebral, but The Girl on the Train is twistier. It resonated with me emotionally. It also puts the reader in more of a detective mode than Gone Girl, so it felt more interactive. And the big finish was far more satisfying than Gone Girl, which had an ending that left me looking for a missing page and wanting to throw my Kindle across the room.

I read this in one day while flying across the country. It's dazzling. I saw myself in all three narrators. There's not a caricature in the bunch. Each stunning revelation slapped me harder than the last. You could make a fun game out of flipping back and spotting every clue and every malicious deception.

Beyond all the thriller stuff and all the relationship insight, The Girl on the Train is a profound meditation on identity. The characters are not who they used to be. Or, they are not who they say they are. Or they feel so ill-defined by their own selves that they need something else — canned gin and tonics, routine, therapy, lovers, children, fantasy, tragedy, lies — to solidify them. But nothing can be solid if the foundation on which we build our lives — the people we love — turn out to be strangers.

DreamWorks has already acquired the movie rights. Start your fantasy casting, ya'll.

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