I avoided reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn for a while because I had seen the movie already. This is not usually a reason I give for not reading books, in fact generally seeing the movie makes me want to read the book even more. In this case the story hinges on a few slow reveals and I wanted to experience them in full. Since they had already been revealed to me via the movie I waited just long enough for the details to be blurred. I was actually a little surprised at how true the movie was to the book. If you haven’t seen the movie yet I recommend reading the book first, then watching the movie. If only to sustain the suspense of the story a little longer than two and half hours.
I’ve thought a lot about how to talk about this book. It’s been out for long enough now that if you haven’t read it or seen the movie there’s a high chance that someone has spoiled the ending for you. If not I applaud you and the rock you’ve managed to fit under and promise that I will not be the one to spoil it. The suspense and surprise of Gone Girl is half the fun of it. We’re given two narrators, Nick, who’s wife is missing, via his thoughts as he’s our present day narrator, and Amy, who’s husband is looking for her, via her diary entires. Throughout we’re given to understand that their marriage is not particularly happy and alongside the marital discontent there’s a perpetual feeling of off-ness surrounding every discovery about Amy, Nick, and their relationship. This off-ness becomes sickening skepticism as the narrators prove and admit their own unreliability.
Nick and Amy’s unreliability as narrators is at once enduring and frustrating. The emotional whiplash from hating them then feeling sorry for them is dizzying and draining. Generally I appreciate characters that live in the gray area and manage to be complex and human, I just don’t think that’s what’s happening with these particular characters. Nick and Amy erased the gray area and are playing hopscotch in the black and white moral grounds. Which makes for a fascinating read and explains why so many people have such strong feelings and opinions about this book. It’s enthralling and slightly horrifying.
Because Nick and Amy dwell in such radical areas of morality and behavior, they make for an interesting study of self, while reading the book. There are so many moments when I found myself saying something along the lines of, “He’s horrible I can’t believe he said/did that, but, you know, I do kind of see where he’s coming from…” It’s demoralizing to try and be empathetic with these characters because whenever you feel empathy they do something that actually makes you feel guilty for being empathetic. So, saying this is a “fun” read may not be accurate, but it will, at the very least, keep you in nervous suspense.
I didn’t actually include this in my common place book mostly because it’s less a quote and more of a passage, but it’s an interesting and important passage. Parts of this are quoted with pretty much every review and discussion of Gone Girl but it’s an excellent summary of a problem that bears repeating:
“Men always say that as the defining compliment don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Benign a 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 wan 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. I’d want to grab the poor guy by lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much-no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be.
I waited patiently –years-for the pendulum to swing the other way, for men to start reading Jane Austen, learn how to knit, pretend to love cosmos, organize scrapbook parties, and make out with each other while we leer. And then we’d say, Yeah, he’s a Cool Guy.
But it never happened. Instead, women across the nation colluded in our degradation! Pretty soon Cool Girl became the standard girl. Men believed she existed-she wasn’t just a dream girl one in a million. Every girl was supposed to be this girl, and if you weren’t, then there was something wrong with you.”
-Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn