GONE GIRL – The Bad, The Ugly, and The Good

I don’t routinely do much book reviewing and can’t remember the last time I provided one. But I recently stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish GONE GIRL. And I’m bringing up Ms. Flynn’s book because she steps all over a couple of my rules. One pertains to using a colon to “set up” interior monologue. The other is offering material in parentheses. But since this book sold over 1 million print copies last year, and it was first published in 2012, she has every right to tell me what I can do with my opinions. However, I’m a glutton for punishment, so I’ll accept the abuse.

I read GONE GIRL for the same reason I read GREY and HARRY POTTER (how’s that for a dichotomy?). When a book takes the reading public by storm, I want to try to determine, in my little mind, what made it “work.” My usual methodology is to read the one-star reviews. Ms. Flynn’s story was a bit odd, in that of the more 37,000 or so reviews posted on Amazon, about 3,000 people who bought the book found the narrative wholly undesirable for one reason–or many. I certainly didn’t read all 3,000 negative reviews, but I did scan a hundred or so, and the overriding theme indicated that the second half of the book was a big letdown and the ending a disaster.

First, I found the first half of the book as poorly paced as anything I have ever read; just plain boring. My wife, who reads an average of three books a week, and has for the 40-plus years we’ve been married, made it to Amy’s being “gone” and handed me the book and said she was “gone.” Hated the characters and pacing. By what I just wrote, it’s obvious that I, too, had a terrible time with the opening–which in the paperback ran 200 pages. So my reading experience begs the logical question: Why in the world did I keep reading? For me, the answer was simple, and I’ll get to it in a moment.

I also kept thinking that I’ve read this material before, specifically in a book by Philip Roth and in another by Richard Ford. Now, you say, wait a gol-dang minute, both of these writers won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction among a slew of other prestigious literary awards. I continued reading GONE GIRL for the most basic of reasons–because Gillian Flynn can flat-out write.  She, however, is the ultimate technique facilitator, as a page does not go by that a dash or colon or the dreaded parenthesis doesn’t appear. Sprinkled in with this collage of literary nuance are semicolons, which I’m certain thrilled Noah Lukeman, runs of truncated text, and a few unnecessary speaker attributes that also show up in the oddest places.

HOWEVER, an honest review requires that I agree with what others have pointed out:  Her dialogue is spot-on from the perspective of “This is the way dialogue should be written.” And she designs backstory just as well. Gillian Flynn is unequivocally a special writer, and I’m surprised that GONE GIRL didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I fully understand and accept that what I’m saying is all over the map. I’m of the camp that says Ms. Flynn is a great writer–GONE GIRL is just not a very good story. I read it as a lay reader and not as an editor, but as I go back over the narrative now, my perspective is the opposite of most of the those who harshly criticized the narrative.

The story came alive for me in the second and third parts, the very sections that received the strongest vitriol. If I had been her editor, I would have suggested she begin the book with the current second section and have her use her immense skill at writing backstory to fill in the blanks. Her use of flashback material, as I indicated, is exemplary and one of her greatest assets, as it requires enormous skill to design this efficaciously–and she beautifully handles integrating plot elements at key stages in the storyline. And, as to the ending, I can’t imagine it concluding any better–the very thing most naysayers hated beyond anything else.

Now, I did find that Nick and Amy sounded a lot alike, and there were instances in which I had to go back to the chapter heading to determine exactly who was “speaking.” But, as the ending clarifies, these characters could not be more the same, hence, how could their “chapters” read differently? Whether by design or dumb luck on Ms. Gillian’s part–and we all need some luck–I don’t know how this could have worked out better, as it made the ending a perfect fit for me. Again, I am in the enormous minority who feels this way, but I’m also one who adored the last half of the book and hated the first half. Once more, the opposite position contended by most.

In wrapping up this book review, GONE GIRL and might still desire doing so), someone lumped this story in with GREY and TWILIGHT, asking, “What has writing come to?” The myriad skill sets of Ms. Flynn are a million miles from Ms. Leonard or Ms. Meyer. Yes, I noticed a typo, a missing word, and one error in subject/verb agreement, a missing comma before “so” when the word meant “thus,” and Ms. Flynn used “lurid’ when she meant to use “livid.” Hey, it happens. Ms. Flynn was an editor for Publishers Weekly, but she’s human, and she has a great editor with her Broadway imprint who, just like me, goes over material so many times that I have to assume she on rare occasions doesn’t see what’s on the page. My occasions aren’t so rare (and why I employ a copyeditor). But, make no mistake about it, Gillian Flynn is a terrific writer from whom anyone can learn. Just know what to look for, the same as parsing material by Messieurs Roth and Ford.

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