Friday, August 26, 2016

Girl Is Doggone Good

When you’re an employed parent of two, you have precious little time for hype. In the time it takes you to teach a tot how to tie his shoes or to not tackle his sister over a toy-related disagreement—no, really, stop that right now, young man—fads have already sloughed off their waxen wings, plummeted oceanward, and filled the gullets of hungry fish. So small wonder that I missed out entirely on the phenomenon of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. I knew that it sold well, soaring to the top place on The New York Times bestseller list for weeks on end. I knew that it racked up plenty of praise from popular and literary critics alike. I knew it got made into a successful movie starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. What I didn’t know, though, was that it deserved every bit of adulation it received—and then some.

Once upon a time, Nick Dunne had ... well, not exactly everything. But more than a few men would’ve gladly traded lives with him. An admirable career as a pop-culture writer with a major magazine. An impressive home in downtown New York. A beautiful wife with a big bank account. Yes, his spouse, one Amy Dunne, owes her fortune to the Amazing Amy series of children’s novels penned by her parents, quasi-biographical books cribbed from her childhood. Or at least she did until the books stopped selling. And her trust fund ran out. And Nick lost his job. And Nick’s mother got diagnosed with cancer. In a flash, the locus of Nick’s life shifts from Manhattan to Missouri, from penning articles to pushing beer across a bar top. It’s not exactly a glamorous existence—and it’s about to get a whole lot less so. See, on the morning of Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick’s going to call the cops. Someone will have broken into the house and Amy will have vanished. An upsetting turn of events. So why won’t Nick appear the least bit bothered by it?

Let me say one thing right off the get-go: If you haven’t blundered into Gone Girl yet, do not—do not—read any more plot synopses than what I’ve detailed above. Go into it as cold as an abominable snowman in Antarctica. See, Flynn excels at blending literary stylings with genre plotting. You’re reading along, thinking the whole time that she’s carefully detailing the emotional ups and downs of this attractive couple, gradually unspooling their preferences, peculiarities, and peccadilloes. Then you oh-so-slowly realizes that those literary details aren’t really literary at all. Rather they’re important elements of the story, each carefully woven into the next, catching characters in lies, revealing just what unreliable narrators they are ... But I’ve said too much. Indeed, the only spoiler I really want to drop is this: The ending is as nasty as it is calm, a grim conclusion that reminds me a little of Grifter’s Game, so simultaneously cruel and carefully crafted that you almost enjoy feeling miserable after closing the cover. But don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself. Girl is doggone good.

(Picture: CC 2014 by TunacanJones)

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