Complicated Women

I’ve been thinking a lot about what The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl have done to the publishing landscape because I just finished two books with complicated/damaged/bad girl/bad ass heroines: The Passenger by Lisa Lutz and The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman. On the one hand I’m grateful for interesting protagonists who are women, but on the other hand, I’ve read an awful lot books with women characters like these.

passengerThe Passenger is a very old-fashioned noir-movie-feeling kind of story told by Tanya, a woman on the run for 10 years that changes her identity quite a few times during the short book. Lutz jumps around in time and slowly reveals what happened about 10 years before the present when the main character first went on the lam. I kind of liked the spare narration, I kind of liked the odd steps along the way (she became a teacher in a remote Texas town), and I liked the ins and outs of transforming her appearance, but the plot reveals felt predictable to me just because I’ve read and seen a lot of noir like this.

murderers daughterThe Murderer’s Daughter, like The Passenger, involves some disguises (just like Elisabeth Salander) and a slow reveal of the main character’s backstory that led her from a very troubled childhood to being a super-successful therapist to post traumatic stress sufferers. It feels like a very Kellerman story because the psychologist’s training and the psychologist’s work feel real and very detailed, but the story went off the rails a bit for me at the end. The villain is super-heinous, the main character is super-heroic, but it’s kind of an empty ending.

Both stories felt like they were jamming a super-hero arc into it, Lutz’s by overcoming a lot of people who sent her on the lam and Kellerman’s by having a ridiculously over-the-top villain for the psychologist-turned-freelance-investigator to confront. I wish the last section of each book hadn’t been so over-the-top.

Disclosure: I received review copies from the publisher.

8 thoughts on “Complicated Women

  1. Interesting, Rebecca, that you see that impact. I’ve no doubt that books such as Gone Girl and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have really impacted the story landscape. Certainly there are lots of books out there now with similar sorts of plot points. I’m sorry to hear that these didn’t really do it for you.

    • Hi, Margot: I’m not always craving something new and entirely different, but these particular books felt familiar but not in a way I loved, if that makes any sense. Have you read anything particularly awesome lately?

  2. It seems to me that publishers identify successful trends (or maybe authors do too?) and they publish lots of books in the same vein. I know they are just trying to sell their books, but it seems lazy to me. I am always behind in reading current books, so I miss a lot of that anyway. The Murderer’s Daughter would turn me off just with the title. The Passenger sounded intriguing.

    • I can see why certain books get big publishing deals or lots of publicity because publishers want to make money from a big trend, but I’d rather find something a little different. BTW, I just picked up The Girl on the Train. Not sure if I’ll like it!

  3. I’ve just read a few similar ones – and yes, I agree it can all get very tiresome after a while. I don’t think readers just want more of the same – underestimate readers at your own peril! (And yet, some of these books seem to be selling really well, so maybe the publishers are right and I am very mistaken).

    • I’d love more transparency about book sales: it seems like every measure just captures a fraction of the book market in the US (NYTimes is a sampling, Bookscan isn’t in every store): it would be a little more insightful like movie ticket sales info, you know. It would be a more realistic view of book trends, I think. Has any book really blown you away lately?

  4. I did not like The Girl on the Train and won’t read Gone Girl. I thought David Ledercrantz’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web was well-done. Lizbeth Salander is key to the murder investigation, is brilliant and there isn’t gratuitous violence or misogyny.
    LIked Julia Keller’s A Last Ragged Breath. Argentinian writer Claudia Pineiro’s Betty Boo is unusual but worth reading and is politically good.
    I liked the final Nina Borg book by Danish writers Kaaberbol and Friis, but the alternating periods of time in a book is wearing thin.

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