The Good Girl
I'm going to admit something. Unlike apparently everyone else in America, I didn't love Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL. Sure, I got sucked into it like everyone else, but ultimately, I felt a little gypped by the "gotcha" plot twists, and unlike with Flynn's previous books, I didn't really care much for, or about, her characters. So when Mary Kubica's debut novel, THE GOOD GIRL, started garnering comparisons with GONE GIRL (and not just because their titles are so similar), I was a little hesitant about starting down that road again. But I'm so glad I did. Kubica's work has a surprise ending, to be sure, one that most readers won't see coming. But her characters are also sympathetic and believable, and the surprise ending feels more like an act of redemption than a clever trick on the reader.
"Kubica's work has a surprise ending, to be sure, one that most readers won't see coming. But her characters are also sympathetic and believable, and the surprise ending feels more like an act of redemption than a clever trick on the reader."
THE GOOD GIRL's narrative is divided into two parts: "Before" and "After." Each brief chapter --- some as short as two pages --- comes from either "Before" or "After," and the two chronologies are intermixed throughout. "Before" is what happens while Mia Dennett, the artistic adult daughter of a prominent Chicago judge, was kidnapped and taken from a Chicago bar to a remote cabin in northern Minnesota. "After" is what happens after Mia --- who now calls herself Chloe and claims not to remember anything about the kidnapping --- is returned to her parents months after her abduction.
Just as the novel's chronology is fragmented, so are its narrators. The story is told from the points of view of three different characters. There's Eve, Mia's mother, for whom Mia's disappearance prompts her own feelings of regret and missed opportunities. There's Gabe, the detective assigned to investigate Mia's case. And there's Colin, the kidnapper, whose story unfolds only gradually, as he and Mia come to know each other during a kidnapping plot gone awry.
At times, all this shifting forward and back in time and in between different points of view can seem somewhat disorienting. Kubica's strong storytelling, however, creates points of connection that readers can use as anchors to help keep them grounded as they navigate the narrative. Although the story is suspenseful --- What are Colin's intentions toward Mia? Will he escape his vengeful employers whom he's stiffed out of some significant ransom money? Will the cops find them before they have a chance to disappear forever? --- it also opens up several avenues for reflection and discussion about such issues as family loyalty, ambition, victimization, compassion, motivation and more.
If THE GOOD GIRL has a weakness, it's that the culminating plot twists and accompanying narrative resolutions can seem abrupt and jarring after the relatively deliberate plotting up to that point. But that is a minor criticism, especially in a debut novel as rich and multilayered as this one. Mary Kubica is a new novelist to watch, one whose next book I will anticipate without any hesitation.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 1, 2014