Is Gone Girl any good? If you are one of the three billion people who have bought and read Gone Girl, you might have an opinion of its merit. I knew almost nothing about the book when I opened it up, and what I had heard most often of it now seems silly. Amy Elliott Dunne, one of the narrators, has been described as a psycho bitch (a joke the book itself makes). I take it this bitch claim is being made by illiterate people, people who have never encountered Fran Dodsworth, Mildred Rogers, or Brenda Last, literary bitches of the highest order.
I like Amy, I liked her more as the story went along, though she was tiresome at times in part one–I picked up on her saintly bullshit act well before it was revealed. There is something of Tom Ripley in her, and perhaps one day she will find herself in another book, doing more and better damage (Highsmith’s first Ripley is the longest and most dense–the others are taut rippers). Imagine mother Amy, divorced from Nick, child in tow, headlong into a relationship with a nebbish artist type, the trouble she could make. Amazing Amy Entraps Woody Allen.
Is Gillian Flynn any good? She drops the occasional smirk-worthy adjective–potato chip dip is “semeny,” and a suicide try is envisioned with pockets filled with “Virginia Woolf rocks.” Cute, but not devestating.
Flynn’s narrative was rather safe, low to the ground. Recall what Christopher Priest did with his dueling narrators in The Prestige to achieve that unforgettable book, and question if Flynn lays it on a bit thick, muy pasado as we say in Chiapas. There were endless passages I marked with my trademarked penciled U, a U that denotes Useless Information. What, if anything, rings out in this paragraph:
Ellen Abbott is making much of the fact that our backyard leads right to the Mississippi River. I wonder then if it has been leaked – the search history on Nick’s computer, which I made sure includes a study on the locks and dams of the Mississippi, as well as a Google search of the words body float Mississippi River. Not to put too fine a point on it. It could happen – possibly, unlikely, but there is precedent – that the river might sweep my body all the way to the ocean. I’ve actually felt sad for myself, picturing my slim, naked, pale body, floating just beneath the current, a colony of snails attached to one bare leg, my hair trailing like seaweed until I reach the ocean and drift down down down to the bottom, my waterlogged flesh peeling off in soft streaks, me slowly disappearing into the current like a watercolor until just the bones are left.
There are many paragraphs of common prose that I suppose move the story along; I read them all and they filled me with nothing. Rice-cake paragraphs.
Another tidbit I recalled from the Gone Girl hype related to our Great Recession, that the novel was a commentary on hard times. Some of Flynn’s touches are good–early on, a creeping man is seen in an abandoned house, and the bankrupted shopping mall occupied by disgruntled unemployed blue-book aficionados was a highlight of the novel. But when down to people, to Nick and Amy, there isn’t much there there. Here’s Nick on the day of his layoff from a NYC magazine:
Then I spent the first class answering so many awestruck questions, and I turned into such a preening gasbag, such a needy fuck, that I couldn’t bear to tell the real story: the call into the managing editor’s office on the second round of layoffs, the hiking of that doomed path down the long rows of cubicles, all eyes shifting toward me, dead man walking, me still hoping I was going to be told something different – that the magazine needed me now more than ever – yes! it would be a buck-up speech, an all-hands-on-deck speech! But no, my boss just said: I guess you know, unfortunately, why I called you in here, rubbing his eyes under his glasses, to show how weary and dejected he was.
I don’t get much from that paragraph, from that supposed dread. Note the weak words; doomed, dead, dejected. For an unfair comparison, consider Mildred Pierce in Cain’s novel of work and dread, set in that Grand Depression year of 1931. This is Mildred after getting a job in a hash house:
All that Mrs Boole had said, all that Miss Turner had said, all that her bowels had told her, after that trip to Beverly Hills, came sweeping over Mildred, and suddenly she dived for the bathroom. The milk, the sandwich, the tea, all came up, while moaning sobs racked her. Then Mrs Gessler was beside her, holding her head, wiping her mouth, giving her water, leading her gently to bed. Here she collapsed in a paroxysm of hysteria, sobbing, shaking, writhing. Mrs Gessler took her clothes off, massaged her back, patted her, told her to let it come, not to try to hold back. She relaxed, and cried until tears gushed down her face, and let Mrs Gessler wipe them away as they came. After a long time she was quiet, but it was a glum, hopeless quiet. Then: ‘I can’t do it, Lucy! I – just – can’t – do – it.’
Frightening, erotic, weird–Flynn misses out on riveting passages like this, and Amy deserves this pulsating detail. Flynn is not good at jobs, at work; her main characters are unemployed, her cops and the lawyer come from bad drama television, and running a bar is as easy as drawing breath. Even her class consciousness doesn’t play well–Nick’s from the middle, Amy the top, and though disdain gets expressed (and repeated), it never stings, never draws blood.
Writing in 2014 about Gone Girl is silly, but when I finished the book I wanted more Amy, older, wiser, and bitchier Amy, Amy cutting loose and cutting hapless men. Amy in North Berkeley, rife with feckless organic free-range males; Amy in Mendocino County, with its stoned cash-rich layabouts: the havoc, the havoc.
The Gone Girl movie comes out in the fall, and its director David Fincher will see that it is simple and loud for the popcorn crowd he desires. But there’s something about this Amy I like and maybe love, and I want to see her in complicated action, in a better book and in the high gear, out for greater stakes and more of that blood she doesn’t mind one bit.