Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gone Girl: Believe The Hype – This is an Instant Classic

     Gillian Flynn’s latest novel Gone Girl is the number one bestseller.  It places Flynn in the front ranks of American novelists, regardless of genre, gender, or anything else.  Like other reviewers, I don’t want to give away too much because part of the very adult fun of this work is that the narrative clips along like a kaleidoscope (Flynn's earlier Dark Places was
similarly structured because it cut back and forth between a wounded, adult woman trying to reconcile that her brother’s been in jail for twenty-five years for slaughtering their family and the events of that day in question as they progressed hour by hour) as each chapter is told in alternating points of view.

Come back to this after you’ve read it.

     The alternating viewpoints in Gone Girl are those of an underemployed husband and his unemployed wife.  They've returned to his Missouri hometown, though they'd much preferred their earlier, successful lives in New York.  As the book begins, the husband realizes his wife has disappeared on their fifth anniversary and he begins behaving in a peculiar manner that might be shock or the after-effects of having killed her.  Her voice is revealed through the diary that she has kept since she first met him.  It’s a premise so simple, it’s elegant.  Flynn’s method of placing her narratives in the geographical/cultural nexus of the Midwest (or ‘flyover’ country as a number of the characters in this book would dismiss it) immediately builds tension as specific characters thrive and others turn into fishes out of water.  Much has been made of a reversal in the middle of the book that is flat-out astounding.  I tried to guess what it was and it was everything I could do not to look ahead.  I didn’t and I laughed out loud in a crowded doctor’s office when I came to it.  

Gillian Flynn
     Where Flynn’s diamond sharp brilliance as a storyteller comes into play most strongly is after the big reveal.  She’s in the middle of a novel where almost anyone else would be ending the story such as Agatha Christie in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which Flynn has acknowledged as an influence, but even more so in And Then There Were None where an impossible, but similarly elegant, plot resolves itself in a letter confession.  The second half of Gone Girl is even more intriguing because she seems to have written herself into a corner on the edge of a precipice without a net and it becomes a metaphysical game to watch not only Flynn shift gears and also somehow ante up the suspense, but also for the characters to keep juggling and adjusting their realities.  And here’s where Flynn incredible talent as a very serious novelist comes into play – the reader is convinced that the two characters’ voices and points of view are completely real.  They never feel like there is the interruption of any type of authorial editorializing.  She writes as a male and a female – middle-class, Generation X, well educated, hip, self-aware and culturally connected, consciously and unconsciously influenced by their parents – with two distinct, individual voices.  Flynn does not outwardly judge her main characters and allows every character a rational motivation, which places her a step beyond Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley series.  There is no misanthropy here; rather, it’s about an impossible situation that must still be lived.

A Scene from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
     Flynn has also said that she was influenced by the movie version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which shows in the second part of the book where what seemed simple is anything but and a quest turns into an intellectual and psychological cat-and-mouse chess game where the stakes are almost unbearable.  However, by looking at a society in the middle of a national downturn – economic, philosophical, and psychological – Flynn’s book works as a contemporary equivalent to Greek Tragedy, specifically Antigone.  She’s examining the clash between the rights of an individual and the authority of the state to maintain stability as they apply to a married relationship (if Antigone had ended up with Haemon and lived in a failing, affluent subdivision, it might have turned out like this) and the definition of crime.  The New Normal (the ambiguous phrase that has come to describe surviving during this down turn and that will historically sit beside The Gilded Age, The Red Scare, and Camelot for earlier eras) that resolves the book is bone chilling from the inside, but conventionally happy from the outside.

     Flynn has deservedly won a number of literary awards in the mystery/thriller genre, but this book hopefully will render her the mainstream spotlight.  If I had any say in the matter, I’d nominate her for the National Book Award.  There will probably be talk of a movie – Dark Places already has a script with Amy Adams set, at this point, to star – but I hope that Gone Girl’s would be a multi-part one for HBO or Showtime.  There are so many intriguing, complex characters including the female detective, the husband’s twin sister, the wife’s first boyfriend, a couple of grifters, and both sets of parents that they need to be completely rendered as does the plot that, in retrospect, works with the precision of a Swiss watch, but seems to unfurl without any definite plan as the story 
Elizabeth Banks and Chris Pratt as the Leads?
progresses.  Playing casting director, I’d say that Elizabeth Banks or Jennifer Aniston should option this book pronto to play the wife and John Krasinski or Chris Pratt should be persuaded (would it take much with characters this rich?) to play the husband.

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