(Spoilers)

I should have known what I was getting myself into. All those reviews on the inside cover comparing The Good Girl to Gone Girl should have warned me that this book was nothing but a cheap cash grab that couldn’t stand on its own. But I was at The Strand, and The Good Girl was on a table labeled “MUST READ THRILLERS.” On the cover, I read the blessed words, “The New York Times Bestseller.” I trusted The Strand, I trusted The New York Times.

Never trust anyone.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica centers around the kidnapping of twenty-something Mia Dennett by twenty-something Colin Thatcher. Colin is supposed to deliver Mia, who is the daughter of a wealthy Chicago judge, to a crime boss named Dalmar to hold her for ransom. Half-way through the kidnapping, though, Colin changes his mind and decides to keep Mia for himself. What ensues is a three-month period where Mia and Colin are holed up in a cabin owned by Colin’s father, the result of which is so traumatic for Mia that she develops amnesia after her rescue by authorities. Sounds like a good read, right?

If you were hoping for a gripping character study on the schematics of Stockholm syndrome, or the triumphant story of a woman surviving and recovering from abuse, like I was, put down The Good Girl and invest your time in Room or Living Dead Girl. You’ll find only disappointment and frustration in Kubica’s handling of the subject.

The story is told in two parts, before the “event” that led to Mia’s amnesia and after her rescue, and by three points of view: Colin Thatcher, Mia’s mother Eve, and Detective Gabe, who is assigned to find Mia. Out of the three POV’s, Gabe is the most interesting, yet he has the fewest chapters dedicated to him. I suspect that this is because Kubica doesn’t have the skills to write a complex mystery and Gabe was solving the case too quickly for “development” to occur in other parts of the narrative. Like the budding romance between Colin and Mia.

Let’s get one thing straight: The Good Girl is marketed as a mystery-thriller. I expected a mystery-thriller. What I did not nor want to expect was a strangely backwards love story between a woman of privilege and a man down on his luck. Unless you’re into BDSM role-playing, being kidnapped and held against your will for three months is not romantic.

Mia is written as an even more obvious self-insert character than the vacuous Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey. She’s a gorgeous white woman, yet different. Even though she grew up in affluence, she has dedicated her life to teaching art to troubled youths at a correctional school. Her students and her peers adore her, but she’s misunderstood by her family, who wanted her to become a lawyer. She’s troubled, she’s forgiving, and men are drawn to her like flies to sap.

And Colin, oh my, don’t even get me started on this bad boy. He’s a ruggedly handsome young man forced into crime because he’s struggling to pay his mother’s increasing medical bills. He’s done robbery, he’s done harassment, but never something so horrid as kidnapping before (we know this because Colin feels the need to repeat this twice to the reader in his first two chapters, without changing the wording. One of the many instances in this book that makes me believe the editor was sleeping on the job). And he doesn’t hurt Mia—well, except for that one time when she tried to run away and he pistol-whipped her. In fact, he saves her. Colin believes that as soon as Mia is delivered to Dalmar and his men, she’ll be raped, but instead of letting her go and fleeing the country from Dalmar, he guns his car to the woods of northern Minnesota with Mia in tow. He has a surprisingly descriptive vocabulary and knowledge of things— like what a Monet painting looks like— despite doing poorly in school, and  seems to have insight into exactly what Mia is thinking every waking second. He also has a penchant for the words, “Apparently, she bought it.”

I really don’t understand why this book has so many positive reviews. The Good Girl has four stars out of 4,105 Amazon reviews, a 3.8 out of 5 on Goodreads, and Publisher’s Weekly labels the book a powerful debut (ugh). It’s obvious from the outset that Kubica did not vet her novel with enough people before publishing it; it’s unclear if she even bothered to write a second draft. The writing is full of clichés; phrases and information are repeated not in an artistic kind of way, more like an editor-didn’t-do-their-job kind of way, and there are whole paragraphs in which each sentence starts with the word “she,” or describe what a character said versus actually just having the character TALK. And when the characters talk, Jesus Christ, I wish Kubica would just go back to description. An example of one gem I found:

“(Mia) says she never drinks coffee, when she did she’d, ‘succumb to debilitating headaches, only to be soothed by Mountain Dew.’”

People . . . people don’t talk like this. And if they do they’re probably assholes who no one would miss if they did get kidnapped. Eve, Mia’s mother, also suffers from stilted dialogue. When Mia is shown to have Stockholm syndrome, Eve nonchalantly explains to Detective Gabe the textbook definition of the disorder as if she’s a trained psychologist rather than a trophy wife. Never mind that a trophy wife is explaining to a detective what Stockholm syndrome is.

And I don’t mean to get political here, but Kubica is so obviously a Pro-lifer that it makes the book borderline painful to read halfway through when we find out that Mia is pregnant from Colin after she’s been rescued. This takes place before it becomes clear that Mia and Colin fell in love during their time in the cabin, so it’s implied that Mia was raped. Even Mia assumes this, as her memory has yet to return. What follows is an argument between Mia’s father, who wants to force Mia to have an abortion to maintain the family’s public image, and Eve, who wants Mia to keep the baby. Kubica paints Eve as clearly the righteous one; for god’s sake, it’s a life in Mia’s belly, Eve knows Mia will regret the abortion for the rest of her life, even though the child would be a product of rape and constantly remind Mia of what she went through. Eve doesn’t even ask what Mia wants to do; mother knows best.

At one point, Eve overhears her husband on the phone with an obstetrician, hoping to book a private appointment for the abortion:

“He called his judge friend and asked that the man’s wife, Dr. Wakhrukov, do him a favor. I heard him on the phone early this morning, before 7:00 a.m., and the word disbarred stopped me outside his office door mid stride. Abortions are done at clinics throughout the city, not reputable obstetricians’ offices. Dr. Wakhrukov is in the practice of bringing babies into this world, not taking them out. But the last thing James needs is for someone to catch him walking into an abortion clinic with his daughter in tow.”

Other than the stagnant, uninspired writing, two things stand out. One, this passage portrays abortions as a negative, seedy thing that only happens in dirty back alleys, and two, a simple Google search would reveal to anyone that OB GYNs in 2014 Chicago would not get “disbarred” if they perform an abortion. Disbar is a legal term that isn’t applied to doctors, and abortions are part of an obstetrician’s job. One could argue that Kubica is just telling a story, that her beliefs do not align with Eve’s, but Mia ends up keeping the child. Kubica goes so far as to present Mia’s decision as a celebration, an official union of Mia and Colin’s love. Stockholm syndrome be damned.

Research is clearly not of importance when it comes to Kubica and her story. Another glaring example of this is when Eve reflects on the first time she met her husband, James. She was 18, a starry-eyed British virgin visiting America for the first time in 1969. She meets James in a bar where he sits with his friends and woos them with his legal jargon. He must have been quite the charmer, because even though she is “18 and therefore not allowed to drink,” she wakes up in his bed the next day.

Wait, Eve is 18 in 1969 and not allowed to drink? Illinois, like many other states, only increased their drinking age in 1984. Before that 18 was the legal drinking age. Also, it was 1969—no one cared if you were slightly underage, especially if you were surrounded by older patrons who were all drinking along with you. And what are Eve and her friends doing in a bar if they can’t drink in the first place, taking in the view? Little disconnects with reality like this abruptly pulled me out of the world Kubica was trying to build.

But the most offending grievance I found in The Good Girl was Kubica’s clear lack of knowledge as to what words mean. Imperialism does not mean when one person abusively dominates another in a relationship (also the irony of Eve, a white British woman, saying that her husband “imperialized” her is not lost on me, but seems to be lost on Kubica). At one point, Detective Gabe “saunters” over to Mia the night she’s rescued, but the situation does not justify a calm swaggering stroll. Mia’s in shell shock and Gabe has just concluded a case that consumed him for the past three months—surely a better word could have been found. Something more akin to the conflicting emotions of sorrow, timidness, and relief felt by all parties involved. Hell, even a simple “I walk up to Mia Dennett” would have sufficed. More harrowing was Kubica’s use of the word “cloaked.” I counted four times where the word was used, and that was before my eyes glazed over just to get through the story. What made “cloaked” stand out so fiercely was how Kubica applied the word to situations that didn’t involve cloaking of any kind, like “Her legs cloaked in hot pink leggings,” or “magazine covers cloaked in baby faces.” Unless your character is actually wearing a cloak, don’t use the word. I get the impression that Kubica somehow felt that her writing was too bland and went to Thesaurus.com to spice things up. She probably started using “cloaked” for its synonym “covered,” ignoring the insidious nature of the word that would have been revealed if she just looked at the rest of the definition which includes “disguise, shroud, hide, obscure.” Bad writing cannot be “cloaked” with flowery words.

Then there’s the twist ending. The last two pages of this migraine of a novel are supposed to be what validates The Good Girl’s comparisons to Gone Girl. In the end, Colin is shot and killed in front of Mia by police when she is being rescued, which is when her amnesia takes hold due to shock. The story jumps ahead to a few months after the rescue, where Mia starts to recover her memory with the help of hypnosis and therapy. But she has a secret, one she can’t reveal to anyone. Turns out Mia was the one to stage her own kidnapping in the hopes of forcing her high-profile father to confess to years of blackmail and bribery. We realize that Mia was the one in ultimate control throughout the whole story, that the love between her and Colin was real, and that, no, Colin didn’t rape her, they had loads of consensual sex!

Only, no, this twist doesn’t change anything. Mia may have been the one to plan her own kidnapping, but Colin wasn’t made aware of that. He dies not realizing that he ruined his life for a girl that would have been fine if he had just delivered her to Dalmar like he was paid to do. Not to make Colin seem like the victim here, but the man has a staggeringly disjointed sense of logic when discerning the subtleties between rescuing and kidnapping. And Mia never thinks to tell Colin that she wanted to be delivered to Dalmar and to just end the whole operation when things start to get out of hand. Mia almost dies from pneumonia two thirds of the way through the story, yet even then she doesn’t tell Colin the truth. Also, why go through such an elaborate plan just to get back at your father who never loved you? Wouldn’t an easier plan have been to find and bring the evidence to the police on your own, rather than get unnecessarily tangled with gangsters and kidnappers?

I ended my courtship with The Good Girl with a game I like to play when novels just become too unbearable to read any further. I read the first few sentences of a chapter, then jump to the last few sentences. If I can still follow the story with just those two bookends, the rest of the chapter, no matter how thick, is just filler. This seems indicative of Kubica’s writing style as a whole. She has a beginning and an end, but no meat to her story.

Yes, The Good Girl was Kubica’s debut novel, and yes, debuts usually have kinks in them, but the leaps in logic, the cardboard characters, and heavy reliance on synonyms in The Good Girl have forever tainted Kubica’s writing for me. And though I admire anyone who can finish writing a novel, a goal I myself have failed to achieve multiple times, I will not be investing my time or money on Kubica’s future works.

PS: $20 is more than enough to buy a week’s worth of milk, cereal, and bananas. I guess Kubica meant for the reader to assume that Colin and his mom were buying more than just those three items of food per week, but they go unmentioned. Where are they shopping, Whole Foods?

 

Von Puttkammer’s critical essay “Review of The Good Girl” won third prize in the Sixth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Her essay “The Relevance of Barthes in Modern Romance” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of The Match Factory. Von Puttkammer was born in Englewood, New Jersey in 1995. She will receive a BFA in Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in May of 2018. Her practice revolves around obsession, lust, isolation, and absurdity. Using her avatar, Anchovy, she presents the subjects of her obsession through paintings and photographs. Her work is dark, claustrophobic, and unapologetic in its depictions of sexuality and consumption. Von Puttkammer is also the co-founder of the art activist group known as Poetic Disorder, a collective that focuses on queer and feminist issues.