Put on Notice: Regarding Plot Twists, Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train

It only took about ten seconds to pick this month’s book club selection. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is being hailed as the new Gone Girl. That attribution comes with some downsides.

Although I fully admit to being potentially the only person around who didn’t like Gone Girl, I understand why other people enjoyed it. I was distracted by the ending. I felt cheated of my time investment into the characters and the plot. I like to identify with a character and be rooting for them. When everyone is equal parts  despicable and redeemable, it’s harder for me to cope. But ultimately, it’s the end of that book that gets to me. I do my best not to share spoilers, but suffice it to say the book has a plot twist.

See: The Girl on the Train. When I’m told “It’s the new Gone Girl,” I’m reading the book waiting. I’m waiting to find out that each character I start to like is horrible. I’m waiting to find myself forgiving the characters I identify initially as horrible. But most importantly, I’m waiting for the plot twist that must be coming. None of this is bad, but I’m not sure it does Paula Hawkins and the authors sure to follow in this genre any favors.

When I watch the television shows featuring the “person who knows everything” (see: Gregory House, MD, on House;  Detective Zack Nichols on Law & Order: Criminal Intent; Sherlock Holmes on Sherlock), I’m watching the show trying to figure out the mystery before the character does. That is, until I’ve watched enough episodes to catch on to the fact that I won’t figure it out. Then I just assume the position I think I am supposed to fill: person who watches in awe as the “person who knows everything” solves the case. (Exception being the episodes of Sherlock based on books I’ve already read.) Up until that point when I just give up and start watching, the show is exciting. Once I understand that I needn’t bother, the show is still entertaining but it’s not as fun.

It reminds me of when I was younger and watching television shows on Nick at Nite and my dad could predict how every episode of The Donna Reed Show, Mr. Ed, The Patty Duke Show and My Three Sons would end. I was amazed. How could he do it? If I catch an episode of any of those shows now, it seems predictable. I know how the story arc is supposed to go.

Books are similar. I have many authors I hook onto because I enjoy their writing and it makes book selection so much easier. But once they start to follow a pattern in each story, and if I identify that pattern, my interest wanes.

I enjoyed The Girl on the Train so much more than Gone Girl. Maybe this is explicitly because of the Gone Girl comparison. I read it wary. But once you know the plot twist is coming… Once you know to be on guard… It changes the experience and I’m not sure it’s for the better. Instead of surprise (and frustration and anger), my reaction is, “Ah, there it is! I knew it!” It’s still entertaining, but somehow not as clever.

This post originally appeared on Kate’s Point of View. © Kate. All rights reserved.