Gone Girl lingers in the memory

Happy New Year, folks! I’m back after an extended break for Christmas travels and family visits. Speaking of Christmas travels, on our very long road trip, Chris and I listened to the audiobook of Gillian Flynn’s marital mystery thriller, Gone Girl. It was riveting, all 19 hours of it (well, maybe except for parts of the last act). Flynn creates such finely-etched characters and vivid circumstances that, even after a two-week break in our listening, all the details were still fresh in our minds. As you’ve probably already heard, Amy Elliot Dunn is one of the most memorable narrators in recent fiction. She’s fiercely intelligent, defiantly feminist, and occasionally lacking in self-awareness, all at once. The book alternates between Amy and her husband Nick’s narration of events. In the first act, the disconnect between these two perspectives creates the suspense of the novel. It’s not really giving anything away to say that Amy disappears at the beginning of the book; most of the story centers around the mystery of her disappearance and Nick’s possible involvement.

Flynn excels at describing the subtle ways in which two people who know each other really well can wound each other – the silences; the unspoken expressions of disappointments; the small punishments meted out. Her portrait of a disintegrating marriage takes on larger issues as well: the death of print journalism and the voracious appetite of 24-hour news media; the 2008 economic crisis; small towns on the verge of collapse. Both Nick and Amy lose their jobs as writers in New York City, and they return to Nick’s hometown in Missouri. Carthage is a small town ravaged by the economic crisis, with whole neighborhoods in foreclosure and a shuttered mall full of squatters – young men out of work after the closure of a local plant that manufactured those now obsolete blue examination booklets. The media come into play both as tools and antagonists during the investigation into Amy’s disappearance.

SPOILER ALERT (for the rest of the post, really): Some of the broader societal issues fall by the wayside once Flynn reveals the extent of Amy’s Leave Her To Heaven-ish self-absorption and craziness. We may distance ourselves from Amy and write her off as psychotic, but Flynn still gives us moments when we nod our heads in agreement with her, when we cheer her on: when Amy rails against “cool girls” and how women are forced to shut off their brains and become people they’re not in order to appeal to men, her feminist fury is, to borrow Nick’s term, “righteous.” The lengths to which Amy goes to frame Nick are frightening and breathtaking. If her ability to cover all her bases starts to feel unrealistic, I’m not sure if that’s because it actually is or because, even in this age of cable anti-heroes, we’re still accustomed to the bad guy/gal slipping up and getting caught.

The last act of the book is a combination of gothic horror story and domestic tragedy. Amy essentially traps Nick in their marriage, a toxic prison that she’s methodically, patiently constructed.  Their future together is a heartbreaking scenario, especially when you consider the impending birth of their child. Nick will basically turn into his father – misogynistic, angry, ready to explode; Amy – the diabolically clever, ruthless puppet master; and an innocent child, caught in the middle of and sure to be damaged by their psychodrama.

Since the film adaptation of Gone Girl is in development, with Reese Witherspoon producing and Flynn writing the screenplay, I can’t resist playing the casting game: my top choices for the frat boy handsome, slightly shifty Nick are Bradley Cooper, Armie Hammer, and Gabriel Macht. And Reese, Julia Stiles, or Emily Blunt (although she’s a bit young for the role) could combine Amy’s surface sweetness and her true malevolence. Chime in with your casting ideas and other thoughts about the book in the comments section below!

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4 Responses to Gone Girl lingers in the memory

  1. Heather says:

    I’ve recently returned from being the Gone Girl myself, gone from my daily tasks and relationships while I spent several days with my nose stuck in this book, oblivious to what was happening around me. I was completely absorbed by the characters, the writing, and the story. Unfortunately I had picked up a few spoilers beforehand, enough to know that Amy was crazy, and so I was not as sucked into her fictional diary entries as I wish I had been. Nevertheless, it was a great read.

    Audiobooks have long appealed to me (who doesn’t love a read-aloud?), but some readers are better than others, and some books make better read-alouds than others, with first-person stories generally working better, in my opinion. I think this must have been fascinating as an audiobook. Were there two readers for Nick and Amy? I think that’s how I would have produced it. And it does make me wonder how on earth this will translate to a screenplay. The genius of the book is largely in the writing techniques she uses, not just the storyline.

    Also, this book is so modern. Flynn takes her wild story and sets it squarely in our own time, in a surprisingly precise way. Empty malls, unemployed, college-educated professionals, depressing, vacant McMansion neighborhoods with squatters. And yes… so many moments where I nodded my head in agreement with these crazy, unlikable people. One of the insights that left me the saddest:

    “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 has haunted my thoughts for about a week now. Is it true? I don’t know. But it sure is sad.

    I was impressed with Flynn’s skill as a writer not just as a story-teller. in fact the story was difficult to read at times. Much more specific sex than I am used to reading about, for example, and so it does make me wonder what she could do with a story that isn’t quite as far-fetched as this one. Or maybe it’s not as far-fetched as we want to believe?! We only know about the criminals who get caught. Anyway, lots to think about. I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time.

    • popgoddess says:

      It’s fun to be completely absorbed by a book like this, isn’t it? Yes, the audiobook has 2 readers – a woman for Amy’s chapters; a man for Nick’s. So much of the book’s genius is Amy’s interiority, I wonder about how the book will translate into the screenplay as well.

      You know, reading that quote you included (I assume it’s from one of Amy’s sections?), I also think it’s a commentary on Amy’s whole process. In creating her diary and her elaborate schemes, she’s drawing on all the tropes we’re familiar with through media and pop culture; she “knows the words to say;” she’s creating a false script based on the “dog-eared script” we’re all familiar with.

      Yes, parts of the book are hard to get through, especially the parts about how Amy and Nick can hurt each other in such intimate, targeted ways. And it was particularly rough because Chris and I were listening to the book together, in a confined space! Not that our experiences as a couple are as awful as Nick and Amy’s, but some of those details nevertheless created awkward little flashes of identification and recognition. Flynn is very good at mining the dark underbelly of a relationship!

      Any casting ideas?

  2. Heather says:

    Elizabeth Banks. I think she’d be perfect. Ryan Gosling? Kidding. Though did you see him in Blue Valentine? Another marriage implosion. I think that’s what made me think of him. Christopher Gorham has the right look perhaps.

    • popgoddess says:

      Christopher Gorham is adorable!! I always think of a line about him on Ugly Betty – he played a nerdy, kinda uptight accountant guy, and when he and Betty got together, someone else made a comment about her hooking up with C-3PO 🙂

      I have seen Blue Valentine – devastating – and I think Ryan could do a good job, even if his looks are more offbeat than Nick’s. Plus he did pull off smooth ladies man, even a bit smarmy, in Crazy Stupid Love. I like Elizabeth Banks, too!

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