“The Girl on the Train” Discussion

Everyone seems to be abuzz about Paula Hawkins’ book The Girl on the Train. It’s a New York Times bestseller, and all-around popular book. It has been on my to-read list for a while and I finally got around to reading it. I want to talk about my thoughts on this book and what I did and did not like.  Because this is a “discussion” and not a review, spoilers full steam ahead.

I’m not great at explaining plots, but I will do my best to give a brief overview of the storyline. The book follows the perspectives of three women: Rachel, Megan, and Anna, bouncing back and forth through the timeline around the “disappearance” of Megan. Rachel, an unemployed alcoholic takes the train every day and watches the house she used to live in with her now ex-husband and the neighbors around it. She sees Megan and her husband Scott in the house down the street from where she used to live and creates a life for them in her mind, and one day sees Megan with another man. Not long after she sees the act of infidelity, Megan goes missing. Anna is married to Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom, with whom she’d had an affair before he left Rachel to start a life with her. Rachel involves herself with the investigation, although the detectives see her as unreliable because of other issues along with her alcoholism. Still, she continues to seek contact with Megan’s husband and others involved in the case. Through the perspectives we finally learn what happened to Megan and how all of their stories intertwine.

Recently I’ve been binge-listening to the podcast Literary Disco and in one of their episodes they discussed the question “What is more important? Good characters, or good plot?” This book to me is a perfect example of a book with great plot but awful characters. I felt as though the characters didn’t have any separation between them. All three women have basic names, which was annoying enough as a reader. Beyond that, all three of them suffer from acting out sexually, yet having a problem with a male character having an affair. They struggle with dependency on alcohol and are all three emotionally unstable because of the circumstances they find themselves in throughout their lives. The husbands, too, are very similar in character. Though Scott is not as extreme as Tom, they are both emotionally and physically abusive to the women in their lives. Because of the lack of diversity in their characters, it took me much longer to read the book than the plot lead me to.

The plot itself was very engaging. I was so interested in finding out who had killed Megan that I wanted to devour the book. It was only the uninteresting characters that had me putting the book down because I got bored so easily by the flatness of the characters copied three times. Had the plot been weak, I would have put the book down permanently. Having a good story can make up for any bad character, and I’m not sure a great character can defend a weak plot.

The way these female characters thought about their desire to be desired bothered me on a personal level. Both Anna and Megan glow in the fact that Tom would have an affair with them. The fact that they were each able to seduce him made them feel so powerful. Megan also finds herself in the bed of her therapist and makes her friend cover for her throughout her affairs. Scott, while he is also manipulative in their relationship, has every right to be suspicious of his wife. She gloats to herself that she is found attractive by other men and desires that feeling. While it doesn’t seem like the sexual aspect of her and Scott’s relationship is lacking, she is unhappy being tied down to him, I guess, and acts out when her thirst for sexual gratification isn’t met. In Megan’s situation, it does seem to be more of a psychological disorder that leads her to her sexual impulses and infidelity (and ultimately her death).

Anna’s story is slightly different. She and Tom met when he was still married to Rachel and they began a sexual relationship. Anna bragged to Rachel later in the book about all the times Tom was with her instead and has zero regret for tearing up the marriage. While Rachel had driven a wedge between herself and Tom because of her alcoholism and depression, Anna feels no guilt for the part she played in the divorce. She loved being a mistress that won. She’s proud of herself. At the end, karma hits her hard as she finds out about the man Tom truly is.

Rachel doesn’t act out quite as much as the other two, her struggle is with alcohol more than sex. However, she does somehow find Scott in a bad moment after Megan’s death and they spend the night together. In that situation, it was clearly a mistake and both parties realize their tryst was wrong given the circumstances.

Recently, many of the books I’ve read have aspects of infidelity to them; some more than others. In those books, it serves a purpose and has a reason for being in the story. While the topic upsets me greatly, I can understand it in instances like Among the Ten Thousand Things, where the affair has already happened and the entire premise is about the family learning to live with the consequences, and Life After Life, where it shows one of the various life paths Ursula ends up in because of past choices. In The Girl on the Train, I felt like the crazy sex triangle was too much and too easy a plot device for the mystery. And again, it also made Megan and Anna much too similar characters in their composition.

The buildup of the mystery was so good. The majority of the book was full of story and information about the murder that kept me reading to finally know what happened. All the way until about the last fifty pages it was all buildup. Suddenly it turned into a dramatic action movie with supervillain monologuing and I was almost disappointed in the ending. I wasn’t surprised at all, but I was let down that we learned that Tom killed Megan in the way we did. I wish it had all been from her perspective and not told from Tom at all. The entire ending was much more cinematic than literary in my opinion. I guess that’s good since the film is being released in October of this year.

Overall, I liked the book. If I’m not feeling a book, I don’t finish it. But as a thriller, the buildup was more exciting than the conclusion. I gave the book 3/5 stars for the poor character development and undesirable level of women thinking they’re cool for seducing married/professional men. Had the characters been more diverse, I could have easily given this book a higher rating. While I wish I had loved the book more than I did, I am grateful for not having spent money on it. I would recommend this book if you’re looking for a fun poolside read, but I’ve read better.

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A Kick in the Teeth (A Post About School Frustration)

If you’ve followed me on any social media or browsed through my blog at all, you probably know that I’ve been trying to go back to school. It’s a topic I’ve been extremely excited about and talk about it often both online and in person. Foolishly I believed applying for college at 22 would be just as easy as it was at 18. I’ve learned through this process that it is ten times more difficult and I wish I understood why.

The first difficulty I had was with my residency status. When I first moved to Florida, I made the mistake of not getting a new drivers license right away. Jumping through hoops to get official documents proving my employment and lease payments was annoying, but it wasn’t impossible.

The second was (and still is) proving that I’m an independent student. This is the part that completely baffles me. As far as federal money goes, if you’re under 24, single, childless, and have living parents, you’re still a dependent.  So while I’m 22 and 100% financially independent, I still have to have mommy and daddy involved in my education or I won’t be able to get any loans or grants. I’ve been living on my own for two and a half years, and have payed for 80% of my bills for that entire time. A few months ago I became 100% responsible for all of my expenses. I haven’t lived under my parents’ roof in years, yet somehow that isn’t enough to be independent.

Never mind that turning 18 brings the label of “adulthood” as far as the government is concerned. As a 22-year old I can join the military, vote, buy a house, buy cigarettes and alcohol, have sex with another adult, gamble at a casino, drive a car, own a gun, and more. But god forbid I don’t feel the need to include my parents financially in my education. In that situation I might as well be 14 years old with no rights again.

Having a degree isn’t everything. I don’t feel as though it’s the end-all be-all of life, however I was looking forward to it. I’m not sure where my life will take me, and I wanted to have a piece of paper with me that might prove to be useful. If I want to pursue something that isn’t front-line, I’m not going to get there until my thirties now.

I’m just really frustrated and disappointed. By the time I’m 24, I could be halfway through with school. Instead, I’ll just be starting. I’ve already taken two and a half years off and feel far enough behind as it is; now I’m set back another two years. 2016 is not my year and I’m really discouraged in how things have been going so far. I’m not going to give up, of course. Knowing the setbacks and failures of so many now-successful people has taught me more than enough to keep me working hard to achieve my goals and to be something useful.

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.

-Walt Disney

Stay Safe, Friends

Wow, friends. There’s a lot of shit that has been happening very close to me recently. First a few nights ago there was a shooting at a concert, killing the performer Christina Grimmie while she was meeting her fans. Second there was another shooting and hostage situation just last night at Pulse, a gay club. Both of these shootings happened in Orlando.
I woke up this morning to texts from the group chat between one of my best friends and my roommates asking if we were okay. After realizing what happened, I jumped on Twitter to see all of the comments from the news, from my friends, and the drag queens I follow. It’s such an awful thing to wake up to, especially with it being a place I visit. 

 While I haven’t been to a concert in over a year and I was not at all familiar with Christina Grimmie as an artist, it’s so scary to know that these things do happen so close to home. I do go to Pulse often enough with my friends and roommates, and that is even scarier to know I could have known someone that was there last night. 
I’m not going to be one of the people who say “All of this happening in Orlando is so awful. I just can’t feel safe anywhere anymore.” It is awful. People are awful. But I don’t live my life believing that I am not safe. I do my best to put myself in situations that keep me safe, I make decisions based on that idea. But I am not fearful with a “nowhere is safe” mentality. I do put a lot of faith in our security partners at Disney that they assist in keeping guests and cast safe during the day, and I do hope they take their roles seriously especially after this week. 

 We had a class at Disney recently that taught us if you see something, say something. Don’t wait until 20+ people are dead to come forward as a witness. 
Any of us could have been involved in these events. This could happen anywhere. I’m used to it happening “anywhere” and not in my city. But the truth of it is that anyone is capable of such awful violence, but you can’t live in fear of it happening to you. Be proactive when you go out and be aware of and for the people around you. Do your best to keep yourself and others safe no matter the situation you might find yourself in. 
This isn’t meant to be a detailed journalistic post. If you want those details you can Google them. This also isn’t meant to be a political post about gun laws, because I’m not knowledgable enough in that to comfortably put those opinions out there. This is nothing more than a reminder to whoever may read this post to be safe in any situation. It isn’t well-written and wasn’t planned at all. I just felt the need to write something quickly on such a prevalent story that happened so close to me.