Mary Kubica’s debut novel received quite a bit of buzz upon its publication in 2014. However, I don’t think I quite expected just what this novel held. It had been compared to GONE GIRL (as most female-driven thrillers are now), was a New York Times bestseller, and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly—all of which pointed me to a solid novel.
Mia Dennett is kidnapped by Colin Tatcher one night from a bar in Chicago. She has no clue why she was kidnapped and Colin has no idea why he isn’t delivering her to his employers and is taking to her cabin in rural Minnesota instead. Told from the points of view of Colin, Mia’s mother, and the lead detective, all speaking from before or after Mia’s return home, the story of a perfect family unravels.
I love thrillers, and I’ve found that many of them are written by men or feature male leads. THE GOOD GIRL was written by a woman with a woman at the center of a story. However, I found three different types of female tropes, all of which can be found in almost any thriller you pick up at Barnes and Noble. *spoilers ahead*
1) The Damsel in Distress
Mia is scared of her kidnapper and offers him sex upon their arrival at the cabin in order to subdue his violence. She develops Stockholm Syndrome, falling deeply in love with Colin, to the point that she wants to run away with him and hide from the police in a remote town in Italy. Even once she returns home, she pines for him, refusing to label him as a ‘bad guy.’
2) The Criminal Mastermind
In a twist that you could miss if you’re a fast reader, Kubica reveals that Mia has actually masterminded all of this. Not Colin deviating from the plan, but she ordered the hit on herself in order to take revenge on her father. Suddenly the Mia we met and mostly empathized with is gone. Replaced by some cold and calculated. It was hard to know if I cared about Mia after that revelation.
3) The Mother at Home
Eve, Mia’s mother, splits her narrative fairly evenly before Mia’s return and after. The after segments serve to help the reader understand what life is like post-kidnapping, while the before sections help us understand who Eve is–an unfortunate stereotype. Her marriage is broken (her husband is never home and doesn’t appear to care about their children). She starts to fall for Gabe, the lead detective on Mia’s case, and reminisces fondly on her relationship with Mia, a relationship Mia describes very differently to Colin.
I’m not denying that these stereotypes exist in real life. And the novel does force the reader to question who is telling the truth and which narrative is fact and not a construction used to manipulate others. So perhaps these are intentional choices. But I can’t help but wonder what THE GOOD GIRL would be like without these tropes.
I desperately want to see women in thrillers be strong, assertive, and refuse the label of victim. I want to see women as bad guys because sometimes people are evil and we don’t understand, not just because Daddy didn’t love them enough. I want to see women be terribly hurt by the world and learn to stand strong. I want to see women hurt and sit in the pain and horror of what happened to them. But I’m tired of stories about women that revolved around men and how men treat them. Mia’s narrative has two influences: her father and Colin. Eve’s narrative is built around her husband and Gabe. I want a narrative with more.