“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

“This is the hardest part,” confides one of the untrustworthy narrators in Gone Girl, the latest novel to disappointment me in a string of summer blahs this summer, “is waiting for stupid people to figure things out.” There’s no need to rub it in, because Gillian Flynn’s latest novel of psychological suspense will confound anyone trying to keep up with her and her diabolical rules of play. That would be a great trait of the thriller- if I cared.  The problem was I could not care less. The longer I read the harder it was for me too keep blundering through the chapters and feign off resistance to picking up something else- as I would gaze longingly at my bedside table at “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter.  (I am reading it now. It’s marvelous.)  

Not that there’s anything underhanded about her intentions: she promises to deliver an account of the troubled marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne, who alternate as narrators, and so she does.  But it’s not a novel about marriage, like many critics say, it is about two people with sociopath tendencies that make each miserable- including the reader, little old me.

It begins with Nick’s description of his morning on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary. Nick and Amy were once bon vivant magazine writers in New York, but the print media implosion put an end to their posh Manhattan life, and for a variety of reasons (“Blame the economy, blame bad luck, blame my parents, blame your parents, blame the Internet, blame people who use the Internet”) they end up in Carthage, Missouri with Nick running a dive bar (using the remainder of Amy’s recently obliterated trust fund) with his sister Margo. Later that day, Amy disappears from their house, leaving behind signs of a bloody struggle. Oh my!  The police, and eventually the TV viewers around the country, come to suspect Nick as his wife’s murderer.

The second chapter is from Amy’s diary, seven years before her disappearance, in which she giddily describes meeting the handsome and funny Nick at a party in Brooklyn. And so the chapters go, alternating between Nick’s account of his life after Amy’s disappearance, and Amy’s diaries entries leading up to the “event”.  This is a suspense novel and things aren’t necessarily what they seem (or are they?) and there are major twists and surprises along the way. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Even as a straight-ahead thriller, Gillian Flynn’s novel succeeds with a tight plot that’s easy to follow but far from rich. However, I will concede to enjoying Flynn’s dark sense of humor and cultural observations.  I especially enjoyed and related too Amy’s rant about “cool girls.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl. Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men — friends, coworkers, strangers — giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them”.

 However, as messed up as Flynn’s characters are, they are still not believable, or unpredictable (even to themselves) or complex, and that doesn’t keep things interesting. They feel like freakish caricatures.  Unlike Tony Soprano (a thug murderer), or Mad Men’s Don Draper (a manipulative jerk) who still reveal a shred of humanity often enough so that you can relate to them, Amy and Nick float on the surface and even in their darkest moments they’re still too shallow.  Hey I like dark, I like reading unlikable characters, the problem is- you have to like to unlike them. Does anyone know what I mean?  Yes, we all have some element of a dark side in us and relating your darkest bits to macabre characters can be extremely illuminating to oneself- but this is not the case in Flynn’s Gone Girl.  Why am I using T.V. characters as an analogy? The novel reads like some teleplay from a bad Lifetime movie.  Oooo ouch.  FYI: Reese Witherspoon just bought the movie rights!

As much I enjoyed being inside a psychopath’s head (sorry no spoiler’s here) I am still befuddled by its popularity.  Instead I recommend reading Adam Ross’s Mr. Peanut– a true thriller about a dysfunctional marriage, that makes the reader squirm, unlike Flynn’s where it is just the characters squirming) because the darkness he presents is possible in all of us and frighteningly relatable.

I am willing, however, to pull my reviewer lens back and pontificate on this book’s vision of romantic love briefly. In most romance novels, intimacy is the treasured goal. No matter what the era, men and women find their bliss when they know and are known for who they truly are. But, in the “real” world, intimacy is more fraught. As lovers grow closer, they become less the people they want to seem and more the people they actually are. Sometimes this is marvelous. Sometimes it creates utter ruination. Many times, it’s just hard and couples get through it. We are a flexible species–always adapting to meet our needs–and we recalibrate our views and expectations of that someone we’ve chosen to love. In Gone Girl, Amy’s and Nick’s ultimate goal is to show the reader the real person the other is.  I wish that were the case here, but unfortunately I believe you’ve all been tricked- it doesn’t come close to revealing a darn thing.  But then again who am I? I despised The Paris Wife and I put Fifty Shades of Grey in the store bathroom.


Hip Hot & Happening in the Bookshop – One more month to get all your summer reading in!

I cannot believe it is August!  Where did July go?  Those fireworks are just a vague memory by now.  I’m sitting here looking at all the books on my list that I have yet to read before the end of the summer.  You know the kind, the books that are meant to be read while lounging by the pool or the ocean; the kind that whisk you away to warm and sunny places or wrap you up in romance or scandal.  Here are 5 books to check out before the days grow shorter and the leaves begin to fall.

1.  Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials “A.H.” At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.

By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other.

2.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren’t his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what did really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife? And what was left in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war…

3. The Language of Flowersby Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

4. A Discovery of Witchesby Deborah Harkness

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

5. The House of Velvet and Glassby Katherine Howe

Still reeling from the deaths of her mother and sister on the Titanic, Sibyl Allston is living a life of quiet desperation with her taciturn father and scandal-plagued brother in an elegant town house in Boston’s Back Bay. Trapped in a world over which she has no control, Sibyl flees for solace to the parlor of a table-turning medium.

From the opium dens of Boston’s Chinatown to the opulent salons of high society, from the back alleys of colonial Shanghai to the decks of the Titanic, The House of Velvet and Glass weaves together meticulous period detail, intoxicating romance, and a final shocking twist that will leave readers breathless.