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Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
As you may have heard, we Amazon editors are very opinionated about books, and relish opportunities to brag about how right we are when we discover something that goes on to become a big hit in the "outside world" "“ i.e. among you, the reading public. (Whether we're calling hits in advance or whether our calling them makes them hits is an open question; frankly, I'm happy either way.) And we do it a lot: Everybody around here is pretty sick of my taking credit for The Goldfinch, for example; when a favorite like, say The Paying Guests gets a major book award nomination, some members of the team feel plenty puffed. So I'm not exactly surprised, (but am always proud) that our #1 best seller, almost from the minute it went on sale last month, is Girl on the Train, a creepy story of a very unreliable narrator and the people she imagines/hopes/insists are in her life; it was one of our Best of the Month picks in January, and a big favorite of lots of people around here. The book whisperers are saying Girl on the Train is this year's Gone Girl.
I'm so relieved! If we've found our new Gone Girl, then maybe the zeitgeist can stop looking for it. I'm sitting here trying to remember how many books were pitched (to curators like us, and to readers) as the next GG: Five, ten, fifteen...it's probably many more. The Silent Wife, Her, Unbecoming, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton "“ those four jumped immediately to mind, but I could probably come up with a half dozen more if I gave it just a bit of thought. I've heard this prediction a lot, in other words, and while I may in fact have liked some of those titles even better than the "original," nothing has until now matched the commercial power of Gillian Flynn's twisted tale. And because the publishing business can't help itself, it keeps looking for that perfect copy, that one winner.
I get it, of course. If something worked once, why wouldn't any red blooded American publisher want to make it work again? Besides, this doesn't happen only in books: there are precious few plays that open anymore that aren't "revivals" or retreads of some kind. And Hollywood, ha! At this very moment, I guarantee you that somewhere at least ten TV or movie producers are calling agents and demanding to be introduced to the "next Lena Dunham." It's just human nature to want to repeat success.
But the problem is, such me-too-ism can be the precise opposite of creative success -- which is at least part of what all writers, all artists, want and need. I mean, even as a kid I knew that painting by the numbers wasn't really painting; it was better than nothing, since I had no aptitude for the real thing, but it wasn't satisfying. And sure, making gobs of money as an imitator can go a long way toward paying off your student loans, but making something new, something out of whole cloth, creating your own trend...now that's something special.
I have nothing against Girl on the Train, or any of the GG followers, mentioned here or elsewhere. I also don't mean to imply that these writers sat down and consciously set out to channel Gillian Flynn. Writing a novel, especially a good one, is too hard to be anything but 100% committed to your own vision of things. I just wish that those of us who love books "“ that would be the publishers and even we pundits, who are forever making comparisons like the one I'm complaining about "“ weren't such sheep. To wit: If Paula Hawkins' novel does as well as it looks like it will, by next year, we'll likely be running to find its successor. I wish we spent more time looking forward, discovering and creating new trends, instead of running like crazy to catch the train that by then will have passed us by.