Review: Tighter, Adele Griffin

You know who Adele Griffin is not? She is not Adele Geras. I thought she was the whole time I was reading her book Tighter. My bad, Adele Griffin. You can see how I would make that mistake.

Adele Geras is the author of this book my middle school librarian gave me (I helped her in the library so she would often let me pick out a book at Book Fair and she’d buy it for me), a dark retelling of Sleeping Beauty called Watching the Roses in which the protagonist has withdrawn from regular life after being raped by the gardener or something. I don’t remember it that well because it scared the living shit out of me and I hid it in the room farthest away from my bedroom so I’d never have to think about it again. It is probably still there if nobody has found it and donated it to the library book sale yet. I don’t remember anything about the plot except that the Prince Charming character was called Jean-Luc and when the protagonist, Alice, gets raped, the rapist tells her not to scream and he says “Or I’ll cut you, Alice. I’ll cut your pretty face.”

It was very upsetting for middle-school me and still feels upsetting to grown-up me. I never want to read that scary scary book ever again.

Anyway! Adele Griffin is not affiliated with that book! Adele Griffin is the author of Picture the Dead, a spooky book I have been wanting to read for a while. Tighter is also spooky although I did not end up loving it that much. It’s about a teenager called Jamie who goes to work as an au pair to a little girl called Isa on the island of Little Bly. Before leaving home, Jamie stole a bunch of undifferentiated pills (sleeping pills, pain pills, etc) from her mother and takes them to cope with the deaths by suicide of two of her family members, whose ghosts have been haunting her. After a short time on Little Bly, she learns that she bears an uncanny resemblance to her charge’s last au pair, who died in a plane crash with her boyfriend. Jamie cannot stop thinking about the dead couple, Jessie and Peter, and she begins to believe that Isa’s older brother, Milo, is being possessed by Peter’s spirit.

I love a ghost story, and I thought I would love this one. It did not prove to be the case, however. The atmosphere of the house and the island didn’t chill me the way I wanted them to, and the climax of the book felt sudden and unearned. And plus, the major twist(s) of the story, which I will spoil for you in this paragraph so stop reading if you don’t want to know, has been done before enough times that it’s not so interesting to me anymore. It turns out Milo isn’t real. Isa never had a brother but just played a game about having a brother called Milo, and everyone thought Jamie was just playing along with Isa. This would have been fine as a plot twist if Milo had been a ghost, but instead he was a hallucination. Because Jamie is schizophrenic.

I’m interested in mental illness and I like reading books with mentally ill characters, as I do think there should be a wider range of representation of mental illness in popular culture. But to bring it in at the end like that, as the resolution to the mystery, irritated me. If it’s a ghost story then let it be a ghost story, or if it’s a story about, like, abuse of prescription drugs then let it be that. Introducing schizophrenia as the solution to everything at the eleventh hour is not treating it with the respect it deserves to be treated with. (I felt.)

Of course, I could just be angry that it didn’t turn out to have real ghosts, and I’m shifting that anger to something I can be self-righteous about. WHO KNOWS.

Apart from that, which, since I read the end before I read theĀ  middle, was pissing me off throughout most of the book, it was a serviceable spooky story. Jamie’s kind of a Gillian-Flynn-style heroine, and I was willing to spend some time watching her kick around the island trying to figure out what was going on with Jessie and Peter and poor little Isa. If everyone had ended up being ghosts this review would still have been a 3-star review but it might not have been such a cranky 3-star review.

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19 thoughts on “Review: Tighter, Adele Griffin

  1. I think the easy ending would bug me too, it almost sounds like she run out of ideas, you’d expect something like that to be included, even if just because it can make a more interesting and complex story. I like the idea of Milo being imaginary by itself, though.

    I think there’s an Adele Park? Which is confusing because there’s also an Adele Parks. Something about Adele’s and literature, obviously.

  2. I would HATE that ending. Schizophrenia instead of ghosts is the WORST. You are 100% correct. (As usual.)

    Also: I just heard a thing on NPR – maybe Radio Lab? – where they talked to a guy who discovered patterns in the brains of psychopathic killers. SO INTERESTING. Turns out this guy’s own family had a LOT of murderers in it – he was even related to Lizzie Borden! – and he has the gene and the brain pattern! But he was not abused or traumatized as a child, so he is totally law-abiding, but when he asked people what they thought of him and asked them to be Totally Honest, they told him he was extremely cold and uncaring, even though he always thought he was a pretty nice, warm guy. And he didn’t even care! So pretty much he learned he is kind of a sociopath – the law-abiding kind – and now he is trying to learn empathy. This really has nothing to do with your review, but I thought you would like to know.

  3. That other Adele creeps me out too. And yes, I am always disgruntedled when the ghosts turn out to not be ghosts. More concerning than the book, however, is the poor dude in the comment above. I am worried about him (she says, demonstrating her own lack of serial killer gene). Can you really truly learn empathy?

    • I think you could at least learn how to behave the same way someone who feels empathy would behave. And maybe eventually empathy itself would kick in too. It’s like how I am not naturally patient with lateness, but living in New York you cannot fret about every single minute that someone is late (or that you are late), because the subways control that more than you do. So I practiced acting like I minded less.

      (I do actually now mind less. Hooray, it worked!)

    • We absolutely teach empathy to small children. I dunno if you can still teach it to adults. You definitely cannot teach it to real sociopaths, because the actual structure of their brains is different, but if he’s not one, maybe he can still learn it.

  4. Oh boo to light treatment of mental illnesses! I’ll be skipping this one, especially since you told me the ending (;P), but Picture the Dead sounds AWESOME.

    Also, I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but you totally need to read True Murder by Yaba Badoe!!!

  5. I too am feeling worried about that poor man. What an inheritance! And I’d be worried all the time – I’m getting cross, am I going to do something truly awful?

    This is true but I can’t tell you what the name of the programme was where in I saw it: there’s a very high prevalence of sociopaths among CEOs and entrepreneurs.

    Also, what IS the scariest book you read as a child? Nosy people need to know… :)

    • I read a study that said economics students were the very unlikely to be honest when there was no incentive to do so. (Law students were very honest) So CEOs and entrepreneurs would make sense. I feel totally justified in judging them henceforth!

    • Well, I just read a book about sociopaths, and there was a pretty big study about the CEO/ entrepreneur thing, and what they said was that the incidence of sociopathy in the general population is about 2-3%, but in high levels of corporate management, however their study defined that, it’s more like 5%. So “high prevalence” is probably exaggerated, but “almost double the usual incidence” is still kind of whack.

      • ooh Jenny, thank you for pointing that out. High prevalence is definitely exaggerated. My apologies to CEOs and entrepreneurs. And I should be careful about writing ‘This is true…’ :)

  6. That does sound really lame. I’m good with ghosts really being ghosts. Did the book at least give the protagonist other symptoms of schizophrenia besides this specific visual hallucination that happened to match her charge’s imaginary brother?

    Your story about the book-fair book gone wrong was hilarious by the way.

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