Sunday, April 22, 2018

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawkins's work falls rather easily into a category that I - yes, patronizingly - call a "best-seller book." These types of books are too "high brow" to be considered a pulpy potboiler (which I love) but too "low brow" to be considered true literary fiction (which I also love). Book clubs love them, which is pretty much the only reason I ever end up reading these types of books. As far as I can tell, "best-seller books" are basically the Kim Kardashians of the book world: famous for being famous and making headlines and, well, not a whole lot else.

I was not super psyched when my IRL book club chose this as our book of the month because I had read THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and found it disappointing, over-hyped, and dull. It was clearly written with Gillian Flynn in mind but someone needs to tell this author that she's no Gillian Flynn, as she - and her readers - clearly haven't gotten the memo, because I am constantly seeing these two touted in the same breath. NOPE. Not even close.

Gillian Flynn writes tightly woven narratives featuring morally gray female protagonists who are compelling because even though they do awful things, they are sympathetic and relatable. As far as I can tell from INTO THE WATER and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, Paula Hawkins writes about irritating, whiny little stereotypes who are all equally unlikable, and it's less about finding the murderer than who shares the greatest percentage of the blame. INTO THE WATER manages to one up its predecessor, though, by featuring an even greater cast of unlikable stereotypes than before. LITERALLY EVERYONE GETS A NARRATIVE POV IN THIS BOOK. The investigator? Check. The aunt? Check. The daughter? Check. The teacher? Check. A random psychic? Check.

Someone please, please get Mariah Carey in here to tell all these people she doesn't know them.

The plot is equally weak. A woman dies in a pond, called, appropriately enough, The Drowning Pool (which would have made a much better title for a thriller, in my opinion, than INTO THE WATER, which sounds like the name of a 1950s musical set at the beach). She is survived by her daughter and her sister, who sort of want to find out why she killed herself, but also not really, because the woman who died was a really awful person. Her daughter and sister are also really awful people, and so, as it turns out, are the rest of the people in this town. Pretty quickly, it turns out that a number of them had good reasons to want the Pond Woman dead, and it might just be murder and not suicide. #Surprise

I feel like this book was going for a Midsomer Murders vibe, but it didn't capture that same compelling atmosphere of a small town in everyone else's business or the complex relationships that form between flawed individuals who are desperately trying to keep up appearances while at the same time making sure all skeletons stay firmly ensconced within their closets. I spent most of the book being incredibly bored as I waded through POV after POV, and when the grand reveal(s) came, it felt totally anticlimactic and poorly handled. If you're going to deal with a serious issue, don't do it for sport, all right? Handle it as it deserves to be handled, and not for sensationalism. That's what tabloids are for.

This book is probably going to turn into another stupid movie that I'm not going to see, because for some reason beyond me people actually think this author's books are suspenseful and good. I'm fine with that: you do you, like what you like, etc. etc. But if you were like me, and found yourself compelled by a book club (or morbid curiosity) to pick this up after reading and being burned by THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and its false comparisons to GONE GIRL, let me save you the trouble - DON'T. Just put this book down and reread GONE GIRL or SHARP OBJECTS instead.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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