Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gone Girl: a very short review

Am I the last person in the world to read Gillian Flynn's sensational Gone Girl?

Certainly not; I see that it's still #4 on the best-seller charts. And, Donna hasn't read it yet, and perhaps she won't.

If you haven't read it yet, and are planning to, here's two thoughts:

  1. Read it!
  2. I'll try not to spoil it for you.

Gone Girl is a superbly-crafted, heart-racing roller-coaster ride. It's everything you've heard about it, and then some. It must be one of the oddest books to pin down, though: it's somehow simultaneously a psychological horror story and a romance, populated by two of the most lovable, vile monsters you may ever encounter.

It's important not to say too much, since, as with any thriller, you want to experience the twists and turns and surprises for yourself.

But I do want to comment on a few other things that caught my attention.

Firstly, this is a book of the moment. Flynn takes her unbelievable story and sets it solidly, firmly in the realm of reality by drinking deeply from the fountain of current events. The time is now, and what a precise now it is: the mall has closed, everyone has lost their jobs, all the houses are abandoned and foreclosed, and what have we done: we've discovered how to live our lives on the Internet:

It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as a criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A fucking commercial. You know the awful singsong of the blase: Seeeen it. I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.

This passage stands alone as one of the best eviscerations of our modern soul-less, soporific life that you'll read this year, but what's best about it, what elevates it above simply a demonstration of technique in another work-a-day thriller, is how positively hypnotic, evocative, and poetic it is. Perhaps it works best if you read it aloud ("ANC-ient ICE-bergs co-LLAPS-ing"), for then you will start to feel the meter and the rhythm: "those of us who are like most of us", "the image is crisper, the view is keener", "the stud or the smart-ass or the fool".

So, secondly, this is "just" a summer thriller, but it isn't pulp. Flynn is a writer of extraordinary skill; her work is elegant and multi-layered; her technique is sophisticated and powerful. It's odd, in a way, that she chooses to tell a story like this, with such skill; reflecting on the book days later, I found myself wondering why she chose to dwell in the gutter when her abilities let her soar with the eagles. I understand that this isn't her first book; I haven't read the others, but I do wonder where she will go next. Will she be another Stephen King, an artist of the highest level who simply chooses topics and subject matter that aren't usually associated with grace and talent?

Lastly, as a life-long game player, I enjoyed seeing a book so full of games. Of course the entire book, as with any psychological thriller, is a single extended mind-game, but Gone Girl is just jam-packed with games of all sorts. The treasure/scavenger hunts, with their riddles and nuances and puzzles, are only the most obvious example, so here are a few more:

  • At the bar:
    We were thinking of introducing a board game night, even though most of our customers were too old to be nostalgic for our Hungy Hungry Hippos, our Game of Life with its plastic cars to be filled with tiny plastic pinhead spouses
  • While wandering New York City:
    a path that took me past the giant LEGO block of the United Nations headquarters, the flags of myriad countries fluttering in the wind. A kid would like this, I thought. All the different colors, the busy memory game of matching each flag to its country. There's Finland, and there's New Zealand.
  • One of the lead characters is named Go!
Practically every page has an example: there are riddles and puzzles and double-meanings, some of them quite intricate (e.g., the "little brown house", which is in fact blue, but which Nick sees as brown because he imagines it as the home of Mr. Brown).

Now, gentle reader, I do want to caution you: this is a horror story. There are sections, multiple sections, that are painful to read. There is language as coarse as you will ever read. So don't jump into this book lightly.

But if you were thinking about reading Gone Girl, I'll add my voice: you won't regret it.

1 comment:

  1. I found the usage of the word "literally" absurd! Everywhere throughout the book from all the characters! Editor!