Thursday, January 22, 2015

I'm Not Sure How I Feel About 'Gone Girl' (Spoilers)

Please be aware that the following book post is not spoiler-free and that it mentions sensitive topics that some readers may find disturbing.

I resisted reading Gillian Flynn's bestselling thriller Gone Girl for a while now. My grandma read the e-book on her Nook and said it was "just okay." She's much more a thriller fan than I usually am, so I deferred to her opinion. Then Meagan at work brought her copy to the office and insisted I had to read it, so I read it dutifully.

It was much more interesting than I expected it to be. It did not go in the direction I expected it go - not at all. And no, I did not know any spoilers beforehand, even though I feel like I'm the last person on Earth to read this book.

I thought it was going to be a story about a man who killed his wife. After the first few chapters, I kind of liked the husband, Nick Dunne. He's a writer, a smart boy, the kind of fictional boy I usually end up attached to. Since I feared he'd turn out to be a killer, though, I asked people on Goodreads, "Is it okay if I like Nick?"

I got two answers: "Kind of" and "He's not as bad as he could be."

Nick does one REALLY bad thing, and that is cheat on his wife, Amy, with a 23-year-old student at the college where he's a part-time professor. That's a jackass thing to do, for sure. I don't judge people for being non-monogamous, but I do judge lying to and hiding things from your partner to be unacceptable behavior. Honest polyamory is good behavior, but cheating without a partner's knowledge and consent is bad behavior.

That said, Nick is not the villain of this novel. Although we don't really begin to suspect it until Nick discovers what's hiding in the woodshed, Amy is the real monster in the story. She lacks empathy utterly, is self-centered to a narcissistic degree, and brilliantly plots the destruction of anyone who stands in the way of what she wants.

Hence my mixed feelings about this novel. Amy is a psycho bitch. Isn't that what practically every guy says about his ex-girlfriend or ex-wife, though? Isn't that the refrain of misogynists everywhere: "Women - they're all crazy bitches?"

I'm not saying that Gillian Flynn is a misogynist. I don't think that at all. I think she wrote a fascinating "what if" story line centered on an interesting, complex, and problematic fictional character. I do think the novel might, inadvertently, reinforce societal stereotypes about female behavior.

One of the awful things Amy does in this novel is falsely accuse an ex-boyfriend of raping her. Being falsely accused of something as horrific as a sexual assault is a frightening prospect, and it's natural that we sympathize with any innocent person - in general, an innocent man, much more rarely an innocent woman - to whom this happens.

Realistically, though, false rape accusations are far, far less common than actual incidents of sexual violence. Society has an unfortunate tendency to blame the victim and defend the accused to a ridiculous degree. It has a lot to do with internalized misogyny and other outdated ideas that have long outlived their usefulness. As a result, too few rapists are prosecuted and victims too seldom get the support they need and deserve post-trauma. This is a societal trend that needs to die a quick death.

Therefore, let us not in any way support the myth that women are inherently self-interested and deceptive. Let us not support the myth that women in general tend to lie about sexual assault for our own gain. Instead, let us give all our support to spreading the idea that a culture of enthusiastic and freely given consent is a win-win for all human beings who engage in sexual and romantic behaviors.

I wanted to finish reading the story to see how it ended, but I didn't so much enjoy it as feel a deep and dreadful concern for the characters. Which is the mark of good writing, by the way - Gillian Flynn made me feel things, and I applaud her for it. I haven't been this wrapped up in a book since The Fault In Our Stars made me cry, then drop it, then call it a stupid book because it made me cry and drop it.

The ending is a hideous nightmare of spousal abuse, a husband being victimized, trapped, and held against his will by his wife. A weaponized pregnancy. Forced domestic bliss.

What's perhaps a little coincidental is that just yesterday I watched a movie called Karla on Netflix. It's an awful movie I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, ever. It's based on a true story, an exploitative "woman in jeopardy" movie about a Canadian couple who kidnapped, raped, and murdered several women. The title character, Karla, is played by Laura Prepon, whom I much prefer to see as Alex Vause on Orange Is the New Black.

The titles at the end of the movie mentioned that the real-life Karla is now out of prison, but still has limitations on her freedoms, as apparently is legal in Canada. The legal system felt she lacked remorse and that her actions couldn't entirely be blamed on her husband's influence and his well-documented, horrific spousal abuse. These titles were somewhat in opposition to the rest of the movie, which portrayed Karla as a scared and reluctant partner in the things her husband did.

The husband, Paul, was played by Misha Collins, my reason for choosing this disturbing film. I really hated seeing his as a serial rapist/sexual sadist who frequently backhanded his wife. I much prefer to think of sweet-faced Misha as a fictional character living in domestic bliss with a fictional Jensen Ackles. He looks too kind to be evil, but I guess that was some of the point of casting him in this Canadian catastrophe. Look, photogenic white people can be evil, too!

Karla was sort of a mixed message, but overall it seemed to tell the story of a man who was so evil and abusive, he twisted a young, impressionable woman by exploiting her sexually adventurous side. Gone Girl is almost the opposite. Nick, mostly-innocent husband victimized by his abusive father, falls into the trap of psychopathic, manipulative Amy, and he's forced to play her least until she decides to kill him.

Male psychopath, female is no more palatable than the other. I didn't exactly "like" Gone Girl, but it certainly wasn't as boring as my grandmother made it sound. I'll have to watch the movie, which stars Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne. I don't have a particular fondness for Ben Affleck (Jennifer Lopez has said she was in love with him, but he broke up with her abruptly and broke her heart), so maybe I won't get very attached to movie-Nick. Maybe.

More Blogger Reviews of Gone Girl

Jenn @ Going the Distance

Shoshanah @ From L.A. to LA

Andrea @ Andrea's Adventures

Kristine @ Living Barefoot and Crazy

Lil @ Faster Than Forever

Victoria @ Mine to Live

Carly Ann @ Carly Chubby Cheeks


Russ R. said...

Don't feel so bad. I have not read the book myself but I have seen the movie because my brother bugged me about it and hyped it so much. I dunno if I liked it or not, but I know that I have to read the book because there were surely parts in the movie that weren't explained so well. And yeah, Amy is so psycho!


Erin O'Riordan said...

Yes she is! She's the queen of all sociopaths.

Shoshanah said...

I feel so excited that my goodreads comment made your post! And that you linked to my review. Thank you!

Gone Girl definitely isn't the type of book I normally read, but with all the hype I had to read it as well. And once you start, it's definitely the book you get sucked into. I haven't read anything else by Gillian Flynn, but from what I've heard, all of her books are a little out there, and some even crazier than this. I'm curious about them, but not quite sure I'm really up for them though.

Erin O'Riordan said...

I wonder if one of her influences is Joyce Carol Oates. Oates has made a career out of making readers feel creeped-out and uncomfortable.