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Another fine mess

Reader fan critic teacher reader fan.

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Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn The soundtrack to Gone Girl will vary greatly, depending on your mood, your ear, your sensibilities. I've no idea what tunes you'll hear, but I'm betting everyone's going to be dancing to this one. Flynn's novel is a glorious entertainment, yet gleefully dismissive of the niceties that often carefully manage (and contain) the disruptive energies of a plot entangled in domestic abuse, stalkers, grifting, a murder or two, bad parenting, and pervasive narcissism. It's the kind of nasty piece of work that my mom will despite its nastiness love, for reasons largely disconnected from my own pleasures in said nastiness--we'll sit together, both raving about this great book, for entirely different reasons. [Different soundtracks.]

My own mixtape-correlative--singles spinning as I bopped through the novel over the course of a couple of days--came in three variations:

1. Thriller filler, string crescendos and swinging moody rhythms--Bernard Herrmann? Too obvious? It's (too) easy to toss around the unpleasant-sounding adjective Hitchcockian, and we've not yet settled on a way to capture the sensibilities of the master's descendants (DePalmish?). Such terms can bring to mind a sense of big twists, the thing that even when you hide it behind a spoiler tag or warning can be a kind of spoiler just by being labeled a spoiler: people start reading for the twists, waiting on big gearshifts and to be bowled over by bigtime Plot. Okay, sure: Flynn's no slouch in the sneakery department, and there are a few things that happen along the way that--depending on your own sneakery, or your previous history with these sorts of sneaking--may make you gasp/chuckle/smile. About halfway through there's a "big" a-ha moment, but I was actually more impressed by how--less like a gotcha, more like the frog slowly coming to boil--over the course of events my understanding of who these people were and what motivated them so radically, constantly shifted.

Like Hitch, Flynn seems to deploy plot like the finest magician, waving her fingers and getting us attending over here to What Happens Next, while the real Magic's in the performance....

2. .... and the style is swampfunk nihilism, malice and mayhem with a mean smile--maybe the Cramps? What's Inside a Girl?: I laughed frequently, furiously. I love fictions about bad behavior. In an interview about this book, Flynn noted that she'd watched The War of the Roses while drafting the novel, Danny DeVito's pitchblack comic masterpiece about a marriage that begins in soft romantic rain and then heads straight to hell. At the end of that movie (spoiler-ish!), the bruised battling couple fall with a chandelier, their battered bodies lying just a few feet from one another. And Michael Douglas picks his hand up, feebly reaches over toward Kathleen Turner's hand, and.... she swats it away. You think that after all the sturm und drang, all the bile, that these characters will find some sincere core, some genuine compassion for one another, that there was once something between that and it can't be entirely gone and... you get suckered again. I laugh at that moment every time I see the film--every time I get suckered back in, imagining that deep down we're not that bad, right? Right? Nope. (It is worth noting that my mother still maintains that the couple in the film were trying to reconcile. That moment rescued the film for her, made it less bitter Irony and more palatable Tragedy.) Maybe you will come to the end of Gone and pine for what's lost. I'm a jerk, I guess, 'cause I laughed -- yet Flynn caught me off-guard on the very last page, and slipped in the shiv, again, smiling all the while.

But.

3. Basking in the bleak can be just as much an easy out for readers--a different kind of escape, but we're still off the hook. What impressed me most of all (cue some Hank Williams, reconceived by The The) is that Flynn's entertainment--the sheer brisk beauty of her plotting, the glorious bite of her black humor--is grounded in a wicked-smart investigation of what makes intimacy work. Her antagonistic protagonists Nick and Amy are constantly play-acting; the word "lie' appears as often as just about any other in the novel. And yet there's something sneakily substantive she's showing us about the power of lying. The relationship advice constantly tossed at this couple, advice they constantly scowl at or seem to deride, continually returns to the work involved in making long-term couples last for that long term. And, at novel's end, there's a moment where we could see a hand reaching out and batting the other's away--where we could see the Roses, still battling... yet we could, as easily, see something (gasp) True about how we love one another, despite or even because of the lies. I want to re-read this book to delight in its play, but I also want to re-examine how inside the play--at the heart of the cover version--she's singing a grim, bluesy tune, too. You think you know the song, or fully grasp the purpose in the way it's being played, but listen again.

Great book.

Thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for providing an advance electronic copy of this novel.