The Pen Is Mightier: Gone Girl and Pop-Lit

I read a lot, and when inspired (or when I can manufacture it), I write.  The Pen Is Mightier is my segment to talk about what I’m reading, what I’m writing, why I’m writing, or all of those things and more.  Whatever works.

I’m going to start out with Gone Girl, which I read a couple weeks ago.  I was intrigued by the idea of it; I’ll admit, I got turned onto it via the movie release.  But I always try to expose myself to source material before an adaptation, so I got a copy of Gone Girl and zipped through it.

Gone Girl is a fascinating book in some ways.  I find popular literature to always be especially intriguing – why is this particular story catching fire at this particular time?  I felt the same way about Fifty Shades of Grey.  Grey isn’t a very good book.  Besides the many ways in which it violates a lot of things the kink community takes pretty seriously (like consent and negotiation), it’s just a poorly written story, period.  It’s bad writing.  It reads like fan-fiction, and of course, it actually is.  Twilight fan-fiction, at that… which brings us to another piece of major pop-lit from recent history.  Why do these things catch fire when they do?

I will say this – Gone Girl is better than the other two books mentioned above.  I actually thoroughly enjoyed it as a casual read.  It read fast and crisply, with good pacing and a certain intensity.  I like to say that I read books for three reasons – for self-education as a writer (i.e. reading to see a certain style), because I’m interested in the subject matter, or because I’m being compelled by the narrative.  Good pop-lit should compel the reader, and Gone Girl does that in spades.  Even when you get past the twist (if it’s really a twist?) at the middle and near the end, you still want to see how things get resolved.  That is one thing the book does – it keeps you off-balance.  Experienced readers learn to anticipate twists and turns; Gone Girl embraces that by leaving plenty to happen after the twists, leaving the reader motivated.  It’s good technique.

That said, Gone Girl is patently ridiculous in a most delightful way.  It is, without doubt, one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever read.  The narrative is just stunning, but not because of twists – because of sheer depravity and psychopathy.  This was what made it such a good read to me, personally; I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  That said, Flynn seemed to write herself into corners at times.  Maybe it was because I recognized from the start that first-person tone can be an “unreliable/biased narrator.”  I never trusted Nick or Amy fully; as a result, anything either of them revealed, either in narration or flashback, was always up for debate.  Truths are objective, but perception almost never is, after all.  And kudos to Flynn for that – she nails the unreliable narrator, and her use of first-person narration was quite delightful.

Nick and Amy, in particular, are exceedingly well-crafted characters.  As a writer myself, I can’t help but be impressed with how – in the first part – she captures the nuances of unhappiness that can creep into a strained marriage.  Perhaps the book stuck with me in part because I’ve been there; I know what it is to move to a shitty town for marriage, and what it is to be trapped there while life falls apart, and how that corrodes a young marriage irreversibly.  That definitely resonated.  And I was hugely impressed with how Flynn captured that in a way that made neither character a villain; as in so many relationships gone wrong, they just stopped communicating and understanding each other, and everything just spins out of control from that central dysfunction.  It’s good stuff.  Nick comes off as an aw-shucks homeboy, but he’s kind of an asshole, too.  Amy, well, it’s hard to get deep into Amy without dredging up spoilers; that said, her issues are likewise impressively laid out, and Flynn delves both characters’ backgrounds well enough that you can completely understand how Nick and Amy end up being who they are.

I’m very curious to see the movie.  First-person narration in a book is great, but rarely translates into a movie.  The book rolls along nicely in three parts; I can’t see the movie moving at the same pace.  What I do see, though, is truly inspired casting.  Without even thinking about it, I found it natural to imagine Ben Affleck as Nick – it just fits.  Similarly, Rosamund Pike as Amy is perfection.  And Neil Patrick Harris as Desi is just.. truly inspired.  So while I generally don’t go nuts for a movie based on a book, in this case, I’m very intrigued on a creative level to see how they make Gone Girl work on film.

Currently reading:  Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)

Most recently finished: The Night Eternal (del Toro / Hogan)