Gone Girl (Book)
Read It: You like your paperbacks to tie you to the bumper and drag you down a gravel road all the way to the finish • You're cool with gritty crime thrillers • You won't get annoyed by reading essentially two alternating diaries • Most messy relationship stories aren't dysfunctional enough for you
Don't Read It: You don't want to be slimed by somebody else's broken marriage, even if they aren't real people • You're sensitive to brief, dark depictions of violence and sexuality • You like your mystery novels to be hosted by heroes sporting monocles with a smug attitude • You can't handle ratcheting suspense
REVIEWS ARE SPLIT IN TWO. BEFOREHAND, I LINK TO THE ARTICLES AND REVIEWS YOU MAY WANT TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU JUMP IN. ONCE YOU'VE READ IT OR SEEN IT (OR DECIDED YOU AREN'T INTERESTED), JOIN US IN THE AFTERWORD FOR AN OPEN DISCUSSION OF THE WORK.
(Spoilers May Abound!)
Again, just in case some of you missed it, I'm reviewing the book. I haven't seen the movie. I'm assuming it's equally traumatic, with those added visuals you just can't get out of your memory.
It's a nice day for a white wedding
Gillian Flynn hides a nice dialogue about the meaning of marriage in this crime thriller. It's a back-and-forth, "He Said, She Said" sort of thing. Only the two leads want to kill each other.
"Gone Girl" is either feminist revenge fantasy taken to its' most preposterous extreme, or it's a masculinist horror story. I have no desire to link to some of the misogyny I've seen on the internet–you can just go ahead and imagine what some of the trolls are saying these days. What I do understand is how feminism has forced sexism to evolve, in regard to both genders. And prejudices are always harder to see up ahead than they are in the rearview mirror.
The nuclear family dissolved over one generation ago, and so did the stereotypes of "wife-homemaker" and "husband-breadwinner". In place of these cliches, new assumptions have taken hold: "hooking up" has subbed in for courtship and old-fashioned dating. Archaic notions of the man making all the money for the family have been replaced by fears of career competition between spouses.
And even though we've updated the stereotypes, the prejudices remain. And they're still destructive to women.
When women feel pressured to both compete with men to be successful and earn their dreams to have a family, (all while feeling pressured to be more attractive than we expect men to be), it only makes sense for such a chaotic and violent revenge fantasy like "Gone Girl" to come along. (Whatever Ben Affleck has to suffer in this movie adaptation pales in comparison to the tragedy Jennifer Lopez made us suffer through.) Of course, as the narrative shifts, your sympathies turn–which is why Flynn has had to respond to accusations of misogyny (see above).
From reports on the unfair economics of modern sexuality (helpfully and entertainingly explained in this video), to rejuvenated abuse prevention campaigns, we still struggle to protect women in our "progressive" society. Now men and women are free to express themselves, especially in regards to sex, but both groups can objectify the other. And when it comes to the kind of gender conflicts which lead to abuse, the victim is usually the woman.
Marriage is What Brings Us Together
Marriage sometimes feels very strange. In ideal circumstances, you intend for the marriage relationship to last for the rest of your life. At least, if you go by the traditional definition of "death do us part".
Sometimes I look over at my wife and get overwhelmed with strange questions: do I really know this woman? Does she really know me? How much of our love is rooted in sacrifice and commitment, and how much of it has just become routine?
Fortunately, I can always answer these strange questions with direct, confident affirmation of our covenant. I don't just recall romantic occasions–I reflect on the mundane and casual times, and even the hardships. Through it all, our commitment to each other continues to be strengthened because we keep choosing each other over and over again.
Sometimes, when we're alone, we'll ask each other: "Are you mine?" "Is this real?" "Will you be with me forever?" We'll ask these questions with total innocence and sincerity. We're going back over the initial decision again and again, without any trace of doubt, reminding each other of the depth of our love.
Wedded Ignorance Isn't Bliss
How intimately I know Leisha now pales in comparison to how well I will know her in the coming months and years. Knowing that, I sometimes need to look at her again–with freshness, free from assumption–and ask myself: in what way is my wife a stranger to me? Where have I taken her for granted? Where have I replaced our love with meaningless convention?
The marriage between the leads in "Gone Girl" isn't just dysfunctional–it's catastrophic. The Dunns can make a better wreck than Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Really, the closest comparison between the leads is Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, only their deception and murderous villainy are turned toward each other.
Flynn masterfully shows you how this marriage falls apart: one assumption at a time.
Lies of omission will happen between people. "Sure honey, I was late because of traffic... (but I would've been five minutes less late if I had left on time.)" "That sweater looks great on you... (but I'm realizing now you're not the skinny man I married.)" It's important to note not all omission is a lie. Sometimes we catch ourselves and protect our intimacy by keeping hurtful thoughts from being aired towards each other. But omission can be addicting, and it can lead two people to keep the routines of a functional relationship that's being slowly hollowed out from the inside.
Nobody intends to take their spouse for granted, or see their marriage dissolve into a cohabitation (or worse). Yet, when we sign each other up under certain expectations (she'll do the dishes, he'll handle the garage...) and then refrain from refreshing the sacred bond we share, we are euthanizing our connection in the slowest possible way.
A lack of communication is carbon monoxide to all relationships.
The plot mechanics of "Gone Girl" will feel contrived to some, and violating to others. It certainly isn't a joyride, and nobody walks away from this one unscathed. But when you witness a tragedy, even a fictional one, you reassess even the simplest things.
How do you really know the person you've given your life to?