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'Gone Girl' Author Brings New Chills With 'Grown Up'


It's the morning after the scariest night of the year. But don't worry; Gillian Flynn, author of the sensationally creepy "Gone Girl," has a real feel for what's scary the other 364 days. She's written a short story titled "The Grownup." It's a slim little volume of chills. And she joins us to talk more from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Gillian, welcome to the show.

GILLIAN FLYNN: Hi, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: We're happy you're here. So set this story up for us. The narrator, whose name we never really learn, we figure out though pretty quickly she's a bit of a con artist, right?

FLYNN: She is, and she's fairly unapologetic about it. She tells you up front that she was born and raised a grifter, that her mom kind of raised her how to beg cash off tourists and that sort of thing and that now she has found herself doing soft-core sex work in the back of a fortuneteller's office and is about to be moved up front because of her good intuition on how to read people and tell them what they want to hear. The usual - the usual career path.

MARTIN: Yeah, the usual (laughter). So she is kind of promoted because she's empathetic in a way. She can read people. And in that position, as someone who is "reading fortunes," quote, unquote, she meets a woman in distress named Susan Burke. Tell us what happens in those first interactions.

FLYNN: Yeah, so our narrator is very aspirational. And what she really wants to do is go legit. She's a reader, and she often has book clubs with some of her clients. And she sees in Susan Burke a couple things - one, that Susan Burke is a great target. She's a rich woman in a completely disastrous state of mind - and two, that probably, if she gets in good with Susan Burke, that she will meet women who have reading groups and, you know, want to talk about classical music and all these things that she kind of imagines herself doing. And so what she says is, she tells Susan that she probably has a haunted house on her hands. And that's all the cause of her trouble, and that our narrator can go in and cleanse the aura of the house for her.

MARTIN: And, funny enough, that is the problem. Susan Burke does have a haunted house on her hands. Not only a haunted house, she's got a haunted boy. There's a lot of these classic kind of horror elements in this story. Is this a kind of homage in a way?

FLYNN: It's my own (laughter) sort of weird homage, I suppose. It's not - I wouldn't call it a classical - classic haunted house story. But I do love a good haunted house story. I was a kid who grew up, you know, "Turn Of The Screw" and "The Haunting." And, you know, I did want to write - it sort of starts out as a tale of a grifter and then quickly turns into a much more gothic feel.

MARTIN: I loved your description of the house, too, because it's not necessarily - it's not an evil place per se. As you describe it, it is just alive. It's just watching.

FLYNN: You know, and that was partly from, you know, in Chicago, where you can walk along a single block and find, you know, a new cinderblock construction right next to this great old, you know, marbled Victorian mansion and how quickly the personality of an entire block can change, much less a house. And I have always loved Victorian houses. I love the way the Victorians found a way to put faces in everything, you know, furniture and marble and, you know, everywhere you turn around - the banister, you know, there's someone looking at you.

MARTIN: What is it about a creepy kid?

FLYNN: You know (laughter), I - I do love a good creepy kid (laughter). I will...

MARTIN: As a parent, it's, like, doubly frightening to read stories like this.

FLYNN: You know, to me - you know, and I - I've always been interested in the idea that, you know, we don't give children enough credit for their innate feralness (ph). You know, I was a kid who the more disturbing the better for me. And so I like the idea of, you know, a kid that appreciates his own innate creepiness.

MARTIN: And we don't want to give away too much. But we should say this is Susan Burke's stepson. And this is the boy that our narrator encounters when she goes to this haunted house to try to cleanse it. She encounters this kid who likes to pretend creepy. He knows he's kind of good at it.

FLYNN: The question is whether or not he's pretending. Susan is fairly sure that the house is exerting some sort of control on him. And we're not sure how much culpability he has in this, if he's playing her, if he's - is actually dangerous. That is kind of the big question that's looming over the whole house and the family.

MARTIN: What is innately frightening about that? Because it is, this idea that we're never quite sure where the source of evil lurks. This thought that you think you know someone but you don't really. And you're good at that. You're good at writing that.

FLYNN: (Laughter) I mean, that's the case with all good haunted house stories, right? Where does the evil really lay? Is it in your mind? Is it with others? Is it in a certain place? And I would sort of say that, you know, all three of my novels have, in a way, been haunted house stories. They've all dealt with the danger that is inside the house, the domesticity, the - your family members or your loved ones. That idea that in the place that you're supposed to be the safest, you are least safe. And that's always frightened me much more than the serial killer roaming the streets out there.

MARTIN: Gillian Flynn's new novella is called "The Grownup." She joined us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks so much, Gillian.

FLYNN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.