Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl was my first Flynn novel. I don’t think it’ll be my last, but I will say this: I’m granting the author many fewer pages the next go-round before deciding whether or not to soldier on. Because here’s the thing: What Flynn demonstrates in Gone Girl is that she is either a mediocre writer or that she’s doing a first-rate impression of one; if she doesn’t have anything better than this to bring to the party, she doesn’t merit the cost of the gas it takes me to collect her books from the library.
I mean, honestly. As the years have sped by, I’ve grown increasingly trigger-happy when it comes to authors who waste my time and editors who cannot be bothered to do their jobs and publishers who think editors no longer matter. You’re on freaking notice. I’m not going to last that much longer anyway, so hold your shit together for another couple decades and then you can all go back to scraping pictographs onto walls with burnt sticks for all I care.
When I say Flynn is mediocre, in any case, I mean it this sense: In Gone Girl, she is a careless, indifferent goldbrick of a craftsman, and she wields the tools of her trade with neither deftness nor skill. And I hope that clears the matter up.
I’m sure she (and, evidently, her editor, presuming one ever clamped eyes on this book before it was published) consider Flynn’s verbal tics to be a “style,” a claim that constitutes the last refuge of the quack writer. What they actually are is irritating and in error, when they are not both.
First, there’s Flynn’s habit of shaking her Thesaurus out over the page and using every word that happens to fall face-up. So we get sentences in which a character is not just tired, but exhausted, done-in-bushwhacked, worn out/fatigued, dead on his bone-weary feet. (Yes, that’s a parody and not a real sentence from the novel, but you can take my point to the bank.) Why use two words (or, Heaven forefend, one) when you can use six or eight or ten? This is not good writing; this is a writer who cannot be bothered to decide what she actually wants to say and thus leaves the work up to the reader, who might reasonably argue that, when he accepted the invitation, he’d been given to expect something else entirely.
Second, Gillian Flynn never met a comma splice she didn’t love. To the extent that she almost always halfway seems to be reporting speech (even when she is not creating direct dialog), she apparently presumes that this “technique” gives her prose greater “flow” and makes it sound more like real people. No; all it does is fill the page with comma splices. The predictable result is that not a few of those sentences have to be read more than once, and not all of them are worth the effort. (P.S. The way “real people” talk these days isn’t anything anyone ought to be trying to duplicate in prose fiction.)
Now, someone is surely perishing to say, “Oh, she meant to do that because she was creating characters’ voices.” Right, except that she wasn’t, and here’s how I know. In this novel, there are two narrators, Amy and Nick, who alternate authorship of chapters. They should, arguably, have quite distinct voices. But they don’t. Instead, A and N sound EXACTLY like one another. In fact, by about halfway through, I was genuinely convinced the novel’s “twist” was going to be that Amy and Nick were actually the same person (that isn’t what happens; so don’t get all “spoiler-alerty” on me). Both narrators suck hard at the teat of the Thesaurus, and they both utter comma splices as though they were going out of style. That’s how we know these strategies are not deployed for the purpose of characterization; they are deployed because Flynn is lazy or because no editor has smacked her a good one and told her to knock it the hell off.
Finally, abandoning Flynn’s slatternly use of English for sunnier climes, I’ll finish up with a different criticism: Gone Girl is a book without an ending. Flynn keeps moseying up to the edge of the cliff marked THE END, turning around, and meandering in the other direction for a spell. She does it so much that you begin to fear she has suffered a traumatic head injury (a teed-off reader’s revenge at last?), developed amnesia, and lost the plot. Literally. In a word, it is maddening.
Gone Girl does eventually run out of pages, as all books must, but it never actually ends. Granted, unless Flynn wanted to kill off her protagonist and/or antagonist, it’s not easy to imagine how Amy’s complicated, sociopathic scams would have unraveled. But that’s not our problem, reader; it is Flynn’s. Her indecision sans souci takes a plot that has already stretched the suspension of disbelief upon the rack of Torquemada (where some may read Amy’s actions as “diabolically clever planning,” I read “preternaturally unlikely coincidence”) and renders it improbable, inconceivable, inexplicable, dubious, implausible (Flynn’s not the only one who can play Thesaurus). Yes, there’s plenty of crazy in this book (one of its charms), but it’s always crazy with a purpose, a specific aim — right up until the end. At that point, “crazy” becomes the excuse for having given up on explaining the characters’ motivations.
Which, when you think about it, was kind of Flynn’s job in the first place.