Monday, December 8, 2014

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn (2012)

My roommate picked up Gone Girl at the local thrift shop for me.  The night before, I had bought The Corrections from there for $3.  It was a nice gesture, and I was mildly interested in reading Gone Girl before, if only because it would be educational to learn what it takes to build a blockbuster novel and film combo.  Whatever Gillian Flynn did, she did it right, and she deserves her success.  Because she wrote a book that wasn't aimed at children, nor a trilogy, and managed to create a nasty 1-2 punch of an enormously popular novel and a critically-acclaimed screen adaptation.  (Stayed tuned for a review of the film.)  I enjoyed this book very much, for the most part.  Ultimately, I felt that Flynn was constrained by the confines of the plot, and while she makes a very powerful statement, eventually gets bogged down in melodrama more suited to soap operas than literary fiction.  This is the problem with being a "genre writer," even though I feel like Flynn's next novel (presuming it does not take 20 years) will place her in a different category from most mystery or thriller writers.  She is "literary thriller."  It's when Gone Girl turns into more of a genre exercise than a sociopolitical statement that I started to get bored.

The opening of the novel reminded me of the recently-reviewed The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., at least in the way the early 30's single Brooklyn writers scene is depicted.  There are only a couple scenes of this at the beginning of Gone Girl, but I remember being struck by them in a way, because I didn't know what to expect.

My sister told me, over dinner at Ron of Japan, that she and her husband Stefan had gone to see it.  Stefan remarked, "I wanted to throw my soda at the screen."   My sister was similarly exasperated.  I said I was surprised--I thought it was good to so far.  She asked, "Did you get to Book Two yet?"  I said no.  She said, "Yeah, wait til you get there."

So I went in skeptical, and when I got to Book Two, I wasn't that disappointed.  I can honestly say though that no one spoiled the book or movie for me, and I don't intend to do so here.  I can genuinely say that I didn't know what was going to happen next at more than three crucial parts of the story.  Maybe I am just an idiot who was reading it very casually, or didn't care that much because it was already gradually turning into something that felt like a genre exercise, but it didn't feel predictable.

Gillian Flynn is one of the most famous writers now living in Chicago, so I kind of have to give a positive review.  This book takes place almost entirely in the town of North Carthage, with the remainder in New York City--primarily Brooklyn Heights.  Flynn recently appeared on a WTTW show called "My Chicago," where she rode around in a car and told one of the hosts about all of the noteworthy locations she had frequented in Chicago.  They picked up her husband, an attorney, and they ended the show at Logan Hardware, an arcade bar, (or maybe Emporium--whichever one has the combination record store).  I do hope to run into her randomly in the Loop one day and be like, can we hang?

Gone Girl has been characterized as misogynistic in the press--but it is in these unfiltered moments of truth (or stereotype) that the novel flourishes.  It is appropriate to include an example from an earlier section to illustrate:

 "Nick and I, we sometimes laugh, laugh out loud, at the horrible things women make their husbands do to prove their love.  The pointless tasks, the myriad sacrifices, the endless small surrenders.  We call these men the dancing monkeys.
Nick will come home, sweaty and salty and beer-loose from a day at the ballpark, and I'll curl up in his lap, ask him about the game, ask him if his friend Jack had a good time, and he'll say, 'Oh, he came down with a case of the dancing monkeys--poor Jennifer was having a "real stressful week" and really needed him at home.'
Or his buddy at work, who can't go out for drinks because his girlfriend really needs him to stop by some bistro where she is having dinner with a friend from out of town.  So they can finally meet.  And so she can show how obedient her dancing monkey is: He comes when I call, and look how well groomed!
Wear this, don't wear that.  Do this chore now and do this chore when you get a chance and by that I mean now.  And definitely, definitely, give up the things you love for me, so I will have proof that you love me best.  It's the female pissing contest--as we swan around our book clubs and our cocktail hours, there are few things women love more than being able to detail the sacrifices our men make for us.  A call-and-response, the response being: 'Ohhh, that's so sweet.'" (55)

Built into this is the implicit feeling that, if the husband refuses, it will count as a major breach in the relationship and will always come back to haunt them.  Flynn writes about mundane matters like this with the flair of a fine fiction writer, and I have to say that almost all of the novel that doesn't deal with the whole page-turning-thriller plot is very good, and the novel is only not "great" because the thriller plot dominates the mundane fiction part of the book.

I'm not sure if I should spoil what happens--I think  it's generally an unfair thing to do because the first reason people read reviews of books or movies is to find out if it's worth their time or not.  I could discuss a bit more if I spoiled it, but that's no fair.  Perhaps the comments section will be used for "spoilers"--if anyone cares enough to point anything out.

There are 3 parts to this book.  The first is definitely the best and the reason to read the book.  Maybe stop there and then watch the movie.  Because the movie does the ending better.  The movie was playing at the Logan Theater one week ago, and since it's been out for a while, I feel its departure is imminent.  But I just checked and there it still is, a week later.  Anyways, I was at about page 400, and I kept saying I was going to finish the book before the movie, but then all of the sudden it was 2:40 and I needed to walk over.  I ended up needing to skim the last 15 pages.  I think it is probably the worst part of the book.  The corresponding part of the movie is not as bad.

In short, ironically, I felt that the last 15 pages were scribbled down hurriedly and aren't as elegantly-plotted as the rest of the book.  In truth, I could say that about the whole last 100 pages.  But the 15 are noteworthy due to my problem of not finishing before seeing the movie.  The story is resolved in an unsatisfactory way, and almost feels like it wants to open itself up to a sequel,  But that would be terrible.  After seeing the movie or reading the book, I don't think you will want to see the characters again in any new story.

I do want to comment on some nice parts the book has that the movie does not.  One is the time that Nick goes to a bar to get away from his situation with all of the press parked at his house and ends up doing a video interview with a young female journalist that is posted to her blog:

"Good morning!  I sat in bed with my laptop by my side, enjoying the online reviews of my impromptu interview.  My left eyeball was throbbing a bit, a light hangover from the cheap Scotch, but the rest of me was feeling pretty satisfied.  Last night I cast the first line to lure my wife back in.  I'm sorry, I will make it up to you, I will do whatever you want from now on, I will let the world know how special you are.
Because I was fucked unless Amy decided to show herself.  Tanner's detective (a wiry, clean-cut guy, not the boozy noir gumshoe I'd hope for) had come up with nothing so far--my wife had disappeared herself perfectly.  I had to convince Amy to come back to me, flush her out with compliments and capitulation.
If the reviews were any indication, I made the right call, because the reviews were good.  They were very good:
The Iceman Melteth!
I KNEW he was a good guy.
In vino veritas!
Maybe he didn't kill her after all.
Maybe he didn't kill her after all.
Maybe he didn't kill her after all.
And they'd stopped calling me Lance." (309)

Some characters are also excised from the book, the most memorable of which is Hilary Handy.  Tanner Bolt's wife is also cut, along with Stucks Buckley, and maybe one or two more.  And it occurs to me that Amy mentions Stucks Buckley in a diary entry and remarks that he has a stupid name.  So, perhaps, Flynn is being self-aware that, a lot of her character have dumb names and sound like the obvious plot devices they are.  Hilary Handy is certainly a handy person to have on your side.  Tanner Bolt just sounds like a superhero that comes in to save the day (though he is depicted as far from that).  Noelle Hawthorne and Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott all sound like realistic names, though.  Rhonda Boney just sounds goofy.

But Hilary Handy.  Maybe she was cut because her story struck me as a little more unrealistic than the rest of the book (and maybe people will think I am crazy for thinking this book is realistic--but I do think a good bit of the plot is very plausible and would be shocked if it didn't spawn a couple copycat crimes).  This part in particular:

"'Instead, she starts getting me to do things.  I don't realize it at the time, but she starts setting me up.  She asks if she can color my hair the same blond as hers, because mine's mousy, and it'll look so nice a brighter shade.  And she starts complaining about her parents.  I mean she's always complained about her parents, but now she really gets going on them--how they only love her as an idea and not really for who she is--so she says she wants to mess with her parents.  She has me start prank-calling her house, telling her parents I'm the new Amazing Amy.  We'd take the train into New York some weekends, and she'd tell me to stand outside their house--one time she had me run up to her mom and tell her I was going to get rid of Amy and be her new Amy or some crap like that.'
And you did it?'
'It was just dumb stuff girls do.  Back before cell phones and cyber-bullying.  A way to kill time.  We did prank stuff like that all the time, just dumb stuff.  Try to one-up each other on how daring and freaky we could be.'" (291)

It's a bit implausible.  It just wouldn't be cool to do that kind of stuff.

I've said about all I can about Gone Girl at this point.  It's a very clever book, and I recommend it.  Unfortunately, the movie is pretty good, so it sort of takes away an impetus to read the book.  And by the time I watched the movie, I was sick of the story.  It's best to experience one or the other--then maybe take a break for a long time, and experience the other one.  I would not recommend doing it back-to-back, or concurrently.

There's more I could say, but I will save that for the film review I will post in a few days...

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