At the tiny Kona airport, the bookstore was more like a bookshelf. I scanned the usual suspects – Dan Brown, Danielle Steele, Tom Clancy – for something vaguely readable. Twice, I considered settling for a stack of gossip magazines, but then I realized that I didn’t recognize any of the celebrities on the covers. So much for my foray into pop culture at 30,000 feet. I turned back to the books and saw a familiar title by an unfamiliar author. I’d heard something about it on the radio or from a friend, I couldn’t remember which, but had a vague recollection that someone somewhere had liked it. I had a five-hour flight ahead of me with no reading materials, so I paid $20 for the book and a pack of gum.
And this is how I came to read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a book that I both strongly disliked and couldn’t put down.
For anyone who has not read the New York Times bestseller, the premise is this: young, lovely married woman disappears one day from the home she shares with her husband, leaving behind the living room furniture in a state of disarray and a pool of blood in the kitchen. Before long, the husband is the prime suspect. The first half of the book is told alternately through the husband’s bitter and distrustful present day voice and the wife’s lollipops-and-sunshine diary entries that lead up to her disappearance. (SPOILER ALERT) Somewhere in the middle, the Big Twist is revealed and the reader learns (or in my case, exclaims, “I @#*%ing knew it!”) that the wife staged her own disappearance in a long con revenge plot that makes Glenn Close’s Fatal Attraction character seem merely quirky.
Why I disliked this book:
- The two main characters are self-absorbed stereotypes with absolutely no redeeming qualities. He is an immature, insensitive dude who does way more of his thinking in his pants than in his head, while she is manipulative to the point of being downright psychotic. There are complex, intelligent and fascinating literary villains that we can’t help but love – Severus Snape, Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery, Hannibal Lector, to name a few – but these are not two of them.
- I saw the Big Twist coming from a continent away. This is not because I am particularly clever, but because it was such an obvious plot device. Duh.
Why I kept reading anyway:
- I have no idea.
- The author was onto something. Dammit.
For reasons I still cannot fully grasp even months later, I continued to tear through that book even after I was off of the airplane and had a world of other reading material to choose from. I stuck it out through the predictable twists and turns of the main characters’ abhorrent marriage, just as if I was sticking it out in my own dysfunctional relationship. I loved to hate them. I’ve gotta hand it to Gillian Flynn: despite all of the nasty side effects – the teeth-grinding, sweating, and stomach-churning – she managed to hook me on her literary meth, even if I was kicking and screaming all of the way.
Just last week, I saw a preview for the movie and I thought, “I can’t believe they made a movie out of this travesty of a story.” Then I immediately checked my schedule to see when I might be able to sneak in a matinee viewing. Because the truth is that a part of me wants to go see the movie in the hopes that I will enjoy hating it just as much as I hated the book.
I can only assume that Flynn’s intention was not to hook her readers despite their better judgment. However, if the ultimate goal for most authors is to create characters and story lines that compel the reader to discover what happens next, I cannot argue that her novel is an unequivocal success.