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It seems to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative . . . We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time . . . I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A fucking commercial . . . The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.

It's a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.

  And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because we don't have genuine souls . . . I'm not a real person and neither is anyone else.

---Crown, ISBN9780307588364, 419 pages, p.73

 

 

Sorry for the long, lead-in quote, but this is what Gone Girl makes you do: just keep on going and going until you reach The End. Whether you consider the above harangue an excuse, astute social criticism, or a blame game, the fact is that, to the main, married characters, this is the way we walk. And, being pragmatic—or just plain spoiled—it makes it okay to lie, cheat, steal along the road to happiness. Or, as John Lennon said,

 

 

 

At its heart, Gone Girl is a mystery, a crime drama, a revenger. It's not about cash or retribution, but swallowing another's essence until they become an extension of you. A servant. A yes man. A zombie. But the real prize is, by forcing them into your arena, they become despicable and as ruinous as you are—and you still win their soul. Victory for Me is the only considered bulls-eye.

Everything is spin, yet the read remains solicitous to the characters' plights. Well, until the Hubby becomes the self-named “hero”(p.413) anyway. It is the story of the dissolution of a 5-year marriage and, of course, a lot more. Structurally, it battles the point of view between the couple using first-person narration and the wife's diary entries from the past until she catches up to her hubby's real-time voice. It is also one of the most complex uses of the elusive character technique you'll ever come across. Plotwise, it is labyrinthine and compelling as the wife's personality.

Here's the perfect couple—Nick and Amy living in NYC. He's a magazine writer, she's a, well, dabbler. He's Husband-Of-The-Year and she's The Cool Girl. He hates his Dementia-dying father's misogyny, so he's conciliatory to female concerns. She hates her parents who live in “a single, infinite burst of marital ecstasy”(p.186), and, because they are successful writers who used her childhood to create a series of books called Amazing Amy that every American girl grew up with, she was never taught how to be “happy” because “I was always a product”(p.224). He's a regular Joe looking for a comfortable life and family; she's alpha, mistrusting, phenomenally egotistical.

Or are they?

“His-and-her layoffs”(p.85) drive them to New Carthage, Mississippi, Nick's hometown. They rent a McMansion in a failed sub-division, and Nick opens a bar with his twin sister Margo and his wife's money. The Big Apple-bred Amy says, “should I remove my soul before I come?”(p.4). Nick's gotta be wondering “what she would do to a man who was dumb enough to marry her”(p.292).

This, however, is all backstory, because the novel opens with Amy's disappearance and a bloody crime scene in their living room. The rest is a chase for clarity, wrestling though infidelity, MPS, OCD, police procedure, pregnancy, bizarre scavenger hunts, mega-lies and mis-direction, brilliant metaphors, similes, and descriptions like “even his shoelaces looked pressed”(p.163) or his Mom's “noose of pearls”(p.169), with bruising antidotes and societal stingers like targeting women with ads for air freshener and panty liners so they can “wear a dress and dance and meet the man she will later spray air freshener for”(p.265)

And, of course, murder.

Second-tier characters are fun, creepy, emblematic, and believable. Nick is a good horse to ride around on, but he bucks unexpectedly, while Amy is so viciously, insidiously appealing. She's like secretly opening your Dad's Playboy centerfold when you were 12.

Being a past critic for Entertainment Weekly, Author Flynn has a very savvy hand on the pulse of popular culture. But, like the latest summer movie blockbuster of, say, Superman, Man of Steel, c.2013, there's probably just one too many big battles. Plausibility stretches as Amy deals out a final malleable personality as if there's six cards in a game of five-card stud. This is a minor criticism, however; it just supports my idea that Author Flynn has updated the modern psychopath for these chameleon times. One created out of immersive video games, inane social posting of the Internet community, advertising everywhere, TV and movie addiction, communication devices alienating humanity from real contact and insightful conversations, and the growing belief that no one, no thing is telling the truth. Communicative connection is at an all-time high, but that's both good and bad. There's a sense of being surrounded by shysters—and they are so adept at the cold call you are forced every, single day to lie (“I'm sorry, I must get dinner on the table, goodbye”), to deceive (“gotta get into college. Where's that SAT cheatsheet?”), to steal (“hey, what's the problem? They're a big corporate store. Copping a DVD is no big deal”). It's the time when “getting an edge” becomes excusable for breaking the law. It is not a stretch to see that assuming a personality, even another's identity, to get what you want is acceptable, especially when it's sanctioned by society.

You know, like a successful marriage.

 

Reviewer's addendum: After viewing Fincher's film on 10/8/14, which is not a condemnation of marriage, but only the people that use it—or any institution—to their own evil ends. A very Dickensian approach, old chap, err, chapess? Anyway, first viewing was not that impressive. Knowing Fincher, 2nd viewing will yield more nuance, other framed objects of importance, background actions with bolster. Now, It seems too influenced by Affleck's dullness, or should I say, understatement? There is no premier gleam to the movie, only Amy's machine-like gloss as she streaks by, getting another step ahead of you. The media feeding is the crackle to this version. I know, it's the characters, its the tone, but there's also sacrificing those things for pontification. And, the book being the recent Bestseller of 2012, there's no way to disallow its influence on its audience. But no matter what, this is a ponderous, important cultural relic.

 

 

© copyright 08/14/2013 by Larry Crawford

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