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[Reading Group] SPOILERS June 2014: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by Philip Overby, May 24, 2014.

  1. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

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    1. What do you think of Nick's character? Does he come off strange or aloof?

    I liked Nick better than Amy, or at least I found him the more relateable of the two until Amy's diary entry for July 5th, 2010. He doesn't seem fully engaged. It's like he's an actor in his own life. His disclosure that he hadn't slept with his sister weirded me out because the thought hadn't entered my brain until he said it. :rolleyes:

    2. How about Amy's character? Do you feel sorry for her situation?

    Diary Amy was super! melo! dramatic! The July 5th entry changed things for me by making her pitiful but not necessarily likeable. She reminds me of Kitty from Pride and Prejudice. "I am fat with love! Husky with ardor! Morbidly obese with devotion!" Just imagine those lines being read by Carey Mulligan. Remember when Kitty was gleeful about being able to sign her letters as Mrs. Wickham? I had serious echoes of that when the name on the diary entries changes from Amy Elliott to Amy Elliott Dunne.

    I felt sorry for her up to Part Two, although I wondered why she didn't just leave Nick.

    I feel like there could've been greater differentiation between Nick's and Amy's styles of narration, particularly in Book One.

    3. How do the supporting characters play any significant role (Amy's parents, Go, and Nick's father)?

    They seem like caricatures to me. Amy's parents rarely acted like real people. Sometimes Go and Boney seemed kind of similar, like Boney was a slightly older version of Go.

    I didn't care for the dialogue. I said the narration seemed kind of samey to me. The dialogue had a similar effect for me. Everyone's dialogue was too cute and well-packaged. People used similar metaphors and turns of phrase. I realize this could simply be Flynn's voice. I wasn't into it. Another thing that bothered me was that, at times, it seemed like characters said things that came across as generic. This is how old ladies talk. This is how country bumpkins talk. That same person would then utter a metaphor or a quip more in line with how someone from Amy's demographic would talk. It didn't seem as bad in the second half. Maybe I had less of a desire to nitpick after things finally got interesting.

    Flynn would present someone as a stereotype, then shift it a bit so they did or said something counter to the stereotype. I understand why: it's easier to put a stock photo in the reader's mind then adjust it accordingly. For me, it was clumsy because it was done often and without subtlety.

    4. Did the story catch your interest early on? Why?

    No. It was too mundane and the characters too unlikeable. Nothing seemed to happen during Nick's side of things. Even though I liked Amy's character less, her diary entries weren't as slow. Amy's story got progressively more ominous, which was good because it felt like I was getting somewhere. The characters aren't unrealistic. I've encountered people online who have a Diary Amy kind of mentality or a Nick-like demeanor. Still, if they're going to be unlikeable, I want them to fascinate me. After being stuck on page 103 for a while, I decided to try again before dropping the book off at library. A few chapters before Part Two, the story picked up.

    5. Since this is a non-fantasy month, what do you think Flynn does with characterization and plot that you don't often see in fantasy novels?

    I think the things you all mentioned apply. Usually, fantasy novels and series have larger casts of characters who get less face time. You have to be adept at showing the inner workings of a character when we spend 1/4 of the book, or less, with him or her. I think first person perspective lends itself to a deeper sense of the POV character's personality. This is why YA and paranormal romance/"chick lit" do first person so much. It's all to capture that elusive voice people want. (I'm not saying it can't be done with third person, btw, particularly with a close POV. It's just that I think a lot of authors unintentionally try to make the narration more objective when it's in third.)

    Another thing that's different to me, given how little I liked the secondary and minor characters, is that contemporary, real world settings allow a greater diversity of stereotypes to draw from and more ways to twist those stereotypes. You can have a homeless guy quoting Ayn Rand or a head of the Women's Studies department who has body dysmorphic disorder or a priest who listens to Lady Gaga. In fantasy, you have fewer categories of people that readers have on tap, and maybe they're most easily twisted out of the stereotype through their behavior and temperament. It's takes a little more effort to show why your character, the knight of the Doomwatch, is unusual for worshiping the Lord of Ash because you have to provide all the context yourself. You can't assume the cultural references will be understood without setting them up, unless you do something hokey with the names.

    As for plot...I think that because the plot relies on the characters' actions, it has a different dynamic than a lot of fantasy. External events drive the plot in most fantasy. Some writers proclaim they're writing character-driven fiction when they're not. If you can switch out characters and have roughly the same events play out, the character isn't driving the plot. It's like making a maze with no branching paths, having a rat run down the corridor, and then saying that the rat chose its route. There was only one path for that rat to travel because of the stage you set.

    If you strip away the characterization and briefly summarize the plot of Gone Girl, I don't think it stands out that much. Flynn's voice and the view into Nick's and Amy's heads are what make it what it is. I can easily imagine a mediocre version of this novel where the characterization takes a back seat to the events and the author heavily relies on the dramatic twists, essentially saying, "Look, look here! Aren't I clever?"

    I find myself wondering about the setting when thinking about this question. I don't remember any detailed descriptions of the setting. I know there was a sense of places that weren't well cared for: the mostly vacant development the Dunnes called home, Nick's father's house, the neglected park where they held Amy's vigil, the lake by Desi's mansion. But my images of the setting were formed by assumption. This is what I think a brownstone looks like. This is what I think the banks of the Mississippi look like. This is what I think one-week rental cabins look like. This is what I know about Missouri and the Ozarks. That alone frees up a lot of space to focus on character. You can't do that in secondary world stories unless you're going super generic.

    Even if it's set in this world, I like more detail about setting. Not necessarily a litany of objects and landscapes, but a sense of what it's like to be there and what the people are like there. If you leave it to the reader to draw from popular images, I think you miss out on giving your particular take on a place and cementing the setting in the reader's mind. A lot of contemporary novels cop out this way. You know what? I've never been to New York. I haven't spent much time in bars. I've only driven through the Ozarks. In fifty years, a hundred years, these places might be very different. How will readers be able to imagine the world around your characters if you don't bother describing it in an evocative way?

    I don't think I got a strong sense of "this is Missouri and nowhere else" which is kind of lame or "this is what New York is like" which is fine since we hear about it through a diary and through Nick's visit...He did go to New York at one point, right? Or was that another city? I don't remember his reaction to being back, even if it was temporary. I don't remember much about the other city we saw. Kansas City? St. Louis? Alright, I think this is another weakness of the novel. Or possibly a weaknemy memory. Either way, the places weren't memorable or as entwined with the characters/plot as they could have been.
     
  2. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

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    Maybe I'd like the book better if less was held back in the beginning. I understand it's for suspense! and mystery!, but the scarcity of enjoyable characters put me off enough that, had it not been for the reading group, I'd have quit. I also felt cheated a few chapters in since things were clearly being kept from me. I could feel the author's hand in that There were enough secrets that revealing a few wouldn't have hurt, I think. Maybe it wouldn't have helped at all.

    Even with the similarities in narration style, I thought Nick and Amy were very well-developed until the end.

    I would have liked to see Nick interact with men his age who had nothing to do with Amy. His father was like a Victorian phantom hovering in the background, clanking his chains, moaning, reminding Nick of who he was capable of becoming. Rand was...weird. Cartoony. Most of Nick's relationships involve women, and most of those women "betray" him. I thought of that after Go began to doubt him, and a few pages later he himself lists the names of the women who've turned against him. He seemed to work hard to for women to like him, but I don't know that that effort was equal when it came to men. The way he resented Desi Collings and appealed to Boney instead of Gilpin fits that pattern. Maybe he acts that way because his mom was the one who loved him and babied him where his dad was someone to avoid, to be afraid of. Maybe he's just a jerk and his tactics don't work on men, so he doesn't try with them.

    The fact that I can analyze Nick like this (even if my analysis is wrong) says a lot about how nuanced his characterization is.

    I was disappointed when he had a "realization" that no other woman will do for him. If it was meant to represent how much he and Amy needed each other or fixated on each other, I don't think it worked. We had hundreds of pages of setup to understand the basics of their relationship and in the span of a few pages we're supposed to go along with "Yep, she's the only woman for me"? No. It seemed sudden and false. If it was meant to show Nick continuing his pattern of becoming whatever a woman wants him to be, I think it could've been made a little clearer.

    The idea of being a victim comes up for both Nick and Amy. I think Nick acted like a victim while trying to portray someone who wasn't a victim. He wanted women to adore him, so he couldn't very well be forthright in his blaming of others. Still, it found its way in. I liked that his father's relationship to women influenced his own attitude. He blamed Amy for how terrible their marriage was when he's the one who took her life savings and invested it in something she wasn't a part of. He's the one who acted strange and had secrets, so when people picked up on that he acted wounded, like it wasn't obvious that they'd come to dark conclusions. He's the one who played Mr. Nice Guy while seething inside all the time. He shouldn't have been surprised that Marybeth "betrayed" him given the lies he told and the overwhelming evidence against him. (Not saying it wouldn't hurt to have someone you trusted think the worst of you, but it's not like it was out of left field.)

    Amy was the opposite. She didn't think of herself as a victim, but she played one throughout her life. That's the story she told people. She told Desi her father sexually abused her. She told her parents and her school that Hilary Handy stalked her, and she told her parents that Desi Collings had as well. She told the police she was raped by Tommy O'Hara. She lied to the world about Nick. When she went into hiding, she decided her story was that of a woman who'd run from a violent man. She lied again to Desi about Nick's treatment of her, then turned around and lied that Desi violated her. Despite all that, she saw herself as the winner of a game. She didn't think she was a victim. Even her dislike of her parents for playing a part in how she turned out wasn't founded on pain. It was more disdainful than anything. It's interesting to me, both characters' relationship to victimhood. They're both pretenders, either way.

    Since people said there was a twist, I figured Amy faked her death and was in hiding somewhere, watching things unfold. (That or she'd killed herself to make it look like Nick had done it.) But I'd bought into Diary Amy, so I didn't expect real Amy at all. I didn't expect the convoluted parts about her money being stolen or her stint at Desi's mansion. I didn't expect the novel to end with Amy getting the upper hand.

    The part about her money being stolen seemed silly. It pulled me out of the story somewhat, but I excused it because of Amy's background. Thinking about it now, it still seems like she'd know better than to flash cash. Anyway, the personas she made–Amazing Amy, Cool Amy, Diary Amy, etc–were based on the kind of life she'd lived and people in her circle. Without Nick she couldn't have created Ozark Amy. It's interesting that she couldn't maintain Ozark Amy. She was the one who got tricked when she was in that persona. The people who stole her money swindled her, and if you buy that she believed Nick still loved her, I guess that counts, too. That felt contrived to me, actually. And the whole "I impregnated myself with the sperm you had in storage, mwahaha" part was straight out of a soap opera.

    The beginning was essentially setup with little happening. The end was stuff happening with little setup. It seems like a better balance could've been struck.

    [HR][/HR]

    In this interview, Gillian Flynn says,

    What do you think of that? I could see why she'd feel that way, but I don't care for the ending. Flynn says she couldn't kill Amy off because Nick wouldn't do it and having any one else do it would let Nick off the hook. I buy that part. I actually would've preferred that Amy be implicated but for her to get off on a technicality. That would've revealed her true nature while leaving her at large. You'd have some of the public on her side anyway, especially after the endless lies she and Nick have told. It would be less ambiguous for the readers while showing the readers that, in the public's mind, it won't be fully resolved. Plus, Amy's stupid parents would have to face some discomfort raising Amy the way they did. I'd like that.

    I like how Flynn doesn't focus too much on any one aspect of the media circus, the groupies, the distrust Nick experiences, or the investigation. It could've been tiring if it was all about the Nancy Grace stand-in or the police interrogations.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2014
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Wow, that's a lot, Ghost! :) You make a lot of great points though. Especially about the ending, which I think leaves a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths. I do think that Flynn's ending works in some way because "justice" wouldn't make a lot of sense in this story. I think Flynn was going for a story where you weren't sure who you should be rooting for. Nick is wholly unlikeable throughout most of the story, but I felt some pity for him because it felt like he was just another dolt that got stuck in Amy's web of lies.
     
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I liked the ending, though not initially as I was kind of angling for the "justice" angle. I think both Nick and Amy have serious mental problems, and I don't find Nick's realization about he and Amy at the end (however sick it is, on some level) to be out of character. I do think it would have been more effective if the realization had been drawn out a bit more. I agree with Ghost in that it seemed abrupt. I think it was a natural end point for Nick, but he got there too fast. I guess with the main action of the story over, Flynn didn't want to draw out an anti-climactic ending just to bring Nick to his conclusion more slowly.

    By the time it was all said and done, I didn't think Nick was really any better of a person than Amy. Maybe not quite a sociopath, which Amy clearly is, but not any better of a person.
     
  5. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm no fan of Nick, but I find it hard to say they were equal. Amy framed several people throughout her life, including her own parents, to get what she wanted. She was like some sort of social chameleon. And then one person who loved her unconditionally, Desi, she killed. Amongst others things.

    Nick cheated on his wife and was kind of an aloof ass. I can't really compare the two.

    Neither of them are good people in the end, so I guess what Flynn is saying is that in life you get what you get so make the best of it. Nick's overwhelming urge to become a father supersedes any common sense or self-preservation.

    That said, the characterization is so well done in this book, I forgive a lot of the issues I have with the plot.

    If we can analyze craft for a moment:

    What methods does Flynn use for characterizing?

    What makes the characters in this book, despite being unlikeable, more appealing than other characters you've read that you didn't have any investment in?
     
  6. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

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    Sorry, Phil. I meant to reply to this. Better late than never, right?

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt that way. It's strange to realize the character I like more (or dislike less, to be accurate) is somehow less readable.

    I hadn't even thought of that. Those people totally would've tipped the police off to Amy's whereabouts for a bit of cash. I'm not sure they actually recognized her, though. I wasn't quite clear on how much of that was paranoia on Amy's part.

    I wouldn't say they were more appealing than other characters. It was a real slog for me, and I didn't like this book. (Which is probably why I had so much to say about it.) I'm already forgetting things like the voice and sentence construction, so my take probably misses out on some technical aspects.

    I still say first person POV helped with deeper characterization in this book. While in that mode of narration, you can provide internal reactions to things as they happen in the novel. The POV character can speak her mind, unfiltered, via narration. Every bit of description or speculation put forward by a first person narrator adds nuance to her voice and to her way of seeing things. You can do the similar things in third person, but as a reader third makes me feel like an observer. It's less intimate.

    Flynn used a lot of anecdotes and memories, I think. The POV character would briefly recall an interaction or compare the past to the present. I think there were longer flashbacks, but there were also shorter ones (maybe a paragraph long) interwoven with what the character was doing or thinking. It helped provide context without becoming overwhelming. You slowly and casually get more information as the story progresses. In a book where I'm not kept in the dark about so much, I could enjoy this effect. There is mystery, but you still get some pieces of the puzzle. As you learn new details more possibilities arise, complicating what was a straightforward interpretation. It can make the main characters seem more dynamic.

    Something you get more with literary novels is the focus on interiority. I think–and this is just a theory–genre fiction often tries to immerse you in the character's sensory experience and literary fiction often tries to immerse you in the character's mental and emotional life. I don't think it's a dichotomy, though. You can do both, but I think many writers tend to focus on one while paying lip service to the other.

    I'd say you can weave together the character's past experiences, his current actions, his fears, and his desires (attainable or not). Those things and the tension between them add dimension and subtlety to the character if done well. I think Flynn mostly did this, although maybe not so much in the end.
     
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Maybe, but maybe not. They robbed her, after all.
     
  8. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

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    They didn't seem smart. Plus, it was cash. Wouldn't it be hard to prove they robbed her? And one could blame the other for the robbery while trying to get the reward. They hardly knew each other.

    I doubt they knew it was her, though.

    I might've liked this book from Boney's perspective.
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Might be hard to prove it, but I don't know that those two would be thinking along those lines. Didn't seem like the type who would be interested in having the police dig around in their business, and with all the publicity surrounding Amy's disappearance, you could bet that anyone involved in the case in any way would be a target not just for police but for journalists and others. I didn't find it implausible that people like those two would stay well away from a high-profile case like that if they had something to hide. It could have gone the other way as well, and I think you could make an argument to support it, but it didn't bother me that they didn't make a report because I also found that plausible.
     
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