The highlight of Rachel’s day is this little hiccup-length stall in her commute that happens within plain view of Jess and Jason’s home, where sometimes she sips coffee on the porch and he stands behind her providing the sort of tender touches that make couplehood look so enticing. Okay, so their names probably aren’t Jess and Jason. And all the tales of hearts and romance that she’s created in her head are merely the fan fiction that accompanies the premade Gin & Tonics that she drinks from cans on the train.
Okay, and there is something else: Not-Jess and Not-Jason just happen to live a few doors down from Rachel’s old house where her ex-husband and his current wife — the one he left her for — and their baby live. Rachel, the unreliable though likable character at the center of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, didn’t know this handsome couple when she lived in the neighborhood, they’re newbies, fascinating newbies who have just what she covets with her ex, Tom.
I guess it’s not too much to reveal that Rachel’s commute isn’t one of necessity. She lost her job weeks ago. That Gin in a Can thing isn’t recreational. It’s a very real, very present numbing tactic she regularly employs — so regularly that she’s alienated all sorts of people. Her only champion is a former high school classmate, a do-gooder who mostly vacuums around the soiled clothing.
Rachel gets a jarring visual during a certain train ride that 180s her opinion of Miss Jess. She chases it with a rip-roarin’ rager. She wakes from a black out drunk a bit bloody and unable to trace the events of the previous night or explain the pissed off voicemail messages from Tom. And Jess, who is actually named Megan, is missing.
This book is pretty gripping. The idea of a black out drunk at the center of a crime is totally brill. Also, Hawkins finds a way to make you root for Rachel even when you want to wrap her in a coat, drive her home, lock her in her room, and hide her phone. In alternating perspectives, we also get in the head of Megan and Tom’s new wife. Neither are as compelling. Megan is perpetually dissatisfied; Anna isn’t as strong as she could be about the meddling drunk who hangs out on the periphery of her life doing completely inappropriate things. Megan’s husband Scott’s motives are hard to follow and Tom is a bit wishy washy. But Rachel. Rachel is recognizable and fully realized and makes up for any other character shortcomings. I didn’t want to put this one down.