“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; when a love done dies, 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.”-Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (2012)
I have to put some “just for fun” reading back into my life, and Flynn’s popular novel seemed a decent place to begin. I’ve been trudging through literary theory, feminist theory, postmodernism and modernism. That’s what happens when you choose a time-period for American literary study that begins just after the Civil War and ends with the Civil Rights movement. Honestly, I enjoy more of the texts than I might let on. But studying these books for an exam that will decide if I can proceed with writing a dissertation makes the books automatically more intimidating, less comprehensible.
And Flynn’s novel is certainly less intimidating than The Feminine Mystique, Ezra Pound’s poetry, and Gender Trouble. But, like many novels that we deem “brain candy,” it has moments of grand insight, like the quote above, a rumination by one of the main characters that could’ve been found in the pages of The Moviegoer, Walker Percy‘s tour-de-force first novel, a winner of the National Book Award or in his essay “Loss of the Creature.” Add to that the structure of the novel, which shifts point of view, timeline, and genre (first person accounts of the moment give way to journal entries, and later the authenticity of all these is questions), and you have a book that that is more complex than it initially appears.
The novel is sometimes overwritten, sometimes underwhelming, and I want to throttle the main characters at times-alright, most of the time. Second-section Amy, who I won’t reveal much about here due to spoilers, is perhaps the most insipid sociopath I’ve ever had the combined pleasure and displeasure of reading. She’s obnoxious, smart, vindictive, and narcissistic. But her husband is hardly better. So far, most of the gripes I’ve seen about this novel lie with its open ending, but that is less of a problem for me than sentences that make me want to scream (“givingtreed” as a verb, a “placenta of smell” around Nick, etc.)
But even that doesn’t destroy the moments of clarity, such as Nick’s realization, quoted above, that we already know the script for everything. Or the critique of some women’s ideas of “real women,” a moment when Amy tears down the “cool girl” persona (you know, the girls who can ceaselessly eat burgers without getting fat, who drink beer and watch sports) without recognizing her own created persona or accounting for the women who really *are* cool girls. Or Amy’s ruminations on living life as a woman whose parents wrote, and still write, about her in a children’s book series (as a children’s literature person, this really appealed to me.) In the end, the novel is a mixture of pleasurable moments, surprising critiques, and overwriting. As an escape, it only kind-of works: I’m still thinking of literary theory and feminism, and I’m annoyed by characters and sentences on occasion. But when it works, it does so brilliantly.