The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

TheGirlonTheTrain

Morning commutes are supposed to be uneventful. They are our time in the day to set our minds to the tasks we face. They give us the opportunity to fully awaken to ourselves, before we’re forced to awaken to other people.  But when Rachel, the focal voice of Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, rides the commuter train to London every morning, she gets more than she bargained for.

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Unreliable at best, Rachel has fallen into a state of personal disrepair, a state perpetuated by her alcoholism. Her recent divorce has left her both grasping at and rejecting a sense of normalcy that only seems to tiptoe near the edge of possibility. Every morning Rachel gets up to take the 8:04 train into the city (where she no longer works) because she can’t bring herself to tell her roommate that she’s recently been relieved of her job. Her train takes her past her old home, the old home in which her old husband still lives with his new wife. And very new daughter. It also takes her past the home of Jess and Jason, two strangers for whom Rachel creates an imaginary life representative of the one she wants and thought she had. Jess and Jason, though, are not quite the people Rachel imagines them to be. No one in this novel is. And when Jess, whose real name is Megan, comes up missing, Rachel feels personally invested in solving the case.

Throughout the novel, readers will feel the same vague sense of recognition that Rachel feels. We know the answer. We have all the clues. They are right in front of us, but Rachel’s drunken state on the night of Megan’s disappearance hinders us just as much as it does Rachel. The answer always seems attainable but just out of reach, moving further away as we move closer. Granted, there is some evidence sprinkled throughout the story, but the level of suspicion necessary to see it requires a certain level of concentrated cynicism.

The story moves at a brisk clip, much like the train that sets it in motion. However, readers may find themselves confused by superfluous details. Unnecessary characters and irrelevant discussions tangle the plot further than is absolutely necessary, which is, perhaps, the point of their inclusion, but more than anything they serve to exacerbate the reader’s sense of frustration with Rachel’s constantly repeating the same mistake.

Terminal Notes: The Girl on the Train offers readers an active reading experience, one in which every detail seems crucial in the moment. The ending, while somewhat anticlimactic, is not predictable, and readers will feel a very realistic connection to Rachel, even if the connection is established only in frustration and annoyance or in relief that they no longer have to contend with her.

No Vacancy

Have you ever noticed that the lodgings you see abandoned on the side of the interstate are always motels, not hotels? And they are infallibly present at the exits we don’t want to take, the ones that seem to lead to nowhere. I see these places, and I can’t help wondering what happened to them. Where did all the people go? What did it look like in its heyday (if it ever had one)? Why did it close down? Who were the first people to stay in it? Who were the last?

They sit recessed from the road only enough for nonexistent cars to park in front of the rooms, which, more often than not, are now doorless. There is a notable lack of glass in the windows, but sometimes the mini blinds that once hung there have been left hanging askew, bent and twisted. The brick is, of course, its original color, indelibly marking the decade from whence the structure sprung, but the paint is certain to be peeling away from the trim and gutters. The furniture is long since gone, probably with the last drifters to occupy the place, but the signs out front still advertise vacancies and color TVs in every room. They are the original signs with hundreds of multi-colored lightbulbs that were so popular in decades past, and it’s not hard to imagine that their blinking in the dark might have once signaled a welcome stop for those on their way to somewhere else. The signs stopped blinking a long time ago.

No road trip would be complete without spotting one of these relics. In fact, it may seem to some that the trip is not complete without them. And we never like to actually get out and examine these places. There have been far too many scary movies based on them for that. But still they sit, reminding us that we have always had the impulse to wander, to stay in unfamiliar places and sleep in beds that aren’t our own. There have always been those to cater to the need of the traveler for temporary lodging, but look at what they’ve become. Today we have Hampton Inns and Embassy Suites at nearly every exit. They are shiny and clean, and many of them are new. But what will happen to them in years to come? Will we continue to see them as bastions of repose for the weary traveler, or will we eventually relegate them to use in horror movies as we have their predecessors? Will they continue to house those of us on our way to bigger better things, or will they eventually sit vacant, functioning only in the memories of those who stayed in them?