Written in Ink
Written in Ink
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Gone Girl screws with current TV debates

Illustration for article titled Gone Girl screws with current TV debates

Warning: I will try to be more interesting than an Amazon customer review, but what else can be said about a massive bestseller that is two years old? To discuss this book in any fashion is to completely spoil it, so don't read if blah blah blah. I will understand if you feel it's tl;dr.


So I finally read the pop culture sensation of 2012! You can tell Gillian Flynn is a former entertainment writer. For one thing, she frontloads too many pop culture references and a Millennial ironic attitude in the content and tone of the beginning of the book. She doesn't do this artfully, like Stephen King or Thomas Pynchon would. There's no reason for it, and we get sort of a defensive excuse when Nick out of the blue says he's existentially dreading the cliched nature of modern life. But maybe that's the reason—that both characters are vacuous enough that they don't have anything else but pop culture.

I learned a long time ago that like is attracted to like. Sometimes, they marry. Amy and Nick are terrible people. They're selfish to the point of narcissism; they have no empathy towards others; Nick is a misogynist learned from his father; Amy, having to live up to the perfect fictional creation of her parents (who rather deliciously are loving enough but completely un-self-aware), expects everyone else to be perfect. So, in the beginning, I knew they were awful people. What surprised me wasn't the twist—since Agatha Christie, anything, including the most outlandish, is possible in a mystery—but the trick Flynn does with the literary concept of the unreliable narrator. You think Amy's a twit for falling gaga in love with a jerk, and then you sympathize with her for possibly having married a mad man. I thought that Nick would have a multiple personality, Jekyll and Hide disorder he wasn't aware of—that his other personality, fed on the anger and resentments of his primary one, killed his wife.


Nope. It's just that old saw: Bitch be crazy. I'm using that expression because Flynn does it, repeatedly. In fact, the book is, as expected from an entertainment writer, a playful treatise on current TV issues: the antihero, the bad fan, the misogynist. If you follow TV criticism, these have been endless (and tiring) discussions. The current "Golden Age of TV" (another term that should be taken to the woodshed) is built on them—as if quality of art depended on a terrible person doing terrible things, a big one being abusing the women around him. I personally think "anti-hero" to be a nonsense term, used by nervous watchers to excuse themselves from watching terrible people on a weekly basis. It's a way of having your cake and distancing yourself from it too.

Gone Girl upends this by making the "anti-hero" Nick into a full hero. By making his misogyny justified. It doesn't excuse it. Nick is still a terrible person. But his wife is a full blown psychopath. We hate Nick even though he is the narrator—in casual reader response terms, he's an unlikable character—but once we discover who Amy truly is, we let our feelings for him slide. I picture a Breaking Bad dudebro who hates Skyler nagging her way in the middle of her husband's very cool drug dealing and executions reading this book and not getting that we're supposed to find both characters repulsive. The book becomes an IQ litmus test of whether the audience will pick up the thing it's satirizing.


And it pretty deftly goes into the black comedy of an awful marriage. Maybe Flynn was a big fan of the film, War of the Roses. I could tell she got a kick when she came up with the concept of the novel. (A lot of novels are bad because you don't know why the author wrote them, what possible reason they have for existing.) This was a grand sugary entertainment of misanthropy. In fact, I wanted her to go bleaker and more absurd. One quibble is that while Nick is believable as a character, his wife is a super villain. Not that that's not intended—it reminded me of Margaret Atwood's Robber Bride. It's a heightened reality, and Flynn even subverts the evil genius trope by having Nick's salvation come at the hands of very poor planning by his wife.

I'm still a bit snobby when it comes to bestsellers. I came to this book with the attitude of a bad critic: looking for flaws. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and her prose is good. It's unfair to judge anything by its reception, because artists have nothing to do with that, but you still have preconceived attitudes, ideologies that are hard to shake. Mine is distrusting best seller lists. Other peoples are thinking women be always crazy when the men are almost nearly as awful. As Nussbaum writes, the audience misreading a work is sometimes the price for provocative art.

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