Monday, July 30, 2012


Everyone's talking about Gillian Flynn's new book, Gone Girl.  So very many people are talking about it, in fact, that I couldn't wait for the million years it was going to take me to get it from the library--I had to go out and get one of Flynn's earlier books, Dark Places, to see what all the fuss was about.

Have you ever tried to explain the plot of a thriller, or a mystery, or even an episode of House?  Yes, take an episode of House. So the blonde guy got a haircut and House is trying to figure out why, but then there's this fifteen year old who's bleeding from her fingernails and they think it's cancer, but it turns out it's NOT cancer, and then the other guy got a haircut too so maybe it's a conspiracy?  Yeah, it doesn't translate in a plot summary.

I'd say the same thing about Dark Places.  I can give you a brief description: Libby Day's mother and two sisters were killed in horrifying violence 25 years ago.  Libby, 7, hid in her mother's closet and testified against her teenaged brother Ben, who is now in prison for life.  Now, Libby is a mess and popular opinion is Ben was innocent.  For various not-particularly-virtuous reasons of her own, Libby begins investigating what really happened that night.  We also see flashbacks of the day leading up to the crime, and we learn more and more about what was going on in the life of Ben and their mother Patty. 

So, that's the summary.  You can pile things on, though--no money, small town gossip, creepy ex-husband, Satanic cults, serial killer aficianados.  When you make a list like that, it starts to sound silly, right?

But this book is absolutely masterful.  First, it's structured in the most gradual, creepy, foreboding way.  You start out with basic information, and more trickles in.  Each successive chapter adds a layer to what's going on.  Hints pay off, characters appear, there are reveals and surprises, and it all makes sense as you're cruising through.

And I don't mean to make it sound like it's a slow book.  That's the great part; each revelation is important, exciting, a moment.  We learn what Libby knows, and Libby learns more and more, and we learn things she doesn't know. 

There are two other things that really impressed me about this book, but they're really connected by the notion of really good writing.  One is that it's smart, witty.  Libby is snarky and bleak, but she's funny--not laugh out loud funny, but just intelligent and angry.  She has no investment in what people think of her, and no filter on her thoughts.  She's profoundly depressed, and doesn't seem to have a lot of control over her life, which makes her a keen observer of her own problems.

The other aspect of this is how perfectly things are portrayed.  The claustrophobia of a small town; the blank fatigue of someone who's depressed and hopeless; the impossibility of being a farmer with four children and no money, none, not at all.  There are amazing portrayals of depression here, without being boring (which is HARD).  There are some really clear, brilliant insights into how children can be manipulated unintentionally, and how the things that you're responsible for as a child affect you for the rest of your life.

One element of a book that was so tight and affecting is that it's sad and grim and harsh, and that feeling is pervasive.  Emotionally, it was a little hard to read--besides the violence, which wasn't that explicit, though the results are described in various places--the entire tone of the book is tense and unhappy, and, as with everything else, it's very successful at communicating that.

I really can't wait to get my hands on Gone Girl.  I think I'll probably be reading a lot of the most highly recommended thrillers soon. 

1 comment:

Aarti said...

Wow, I'm impressed this book was able to stay smart and witty while also being about such a complicated subject! That takes skill