Friday, July 13, 2012

Gone Girl is clever but noir light

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is a clever novel. My book group chose it and oddly enough, we all had similar reactions. We admired how the book draws you in, using alternating letters between the husband and wife. And how you keep reading, wanting to know what did happen to the wife, who’s disappeared. Still about half through we got annoyed. All the detail of the wife’s letters become tedious. And most of us had inklings of what happened too early so it wasn’t so shocking.

I found myself thinking of great noir—James Cain’s The Postman Rings Twice or  Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. This book might be a homage to those, but it lacks the riveting directness, the punch and irrefutable endings. Postman creates a sense of horrified inevitability as you see two passionate people cross the criminal line toward insanity. In Mr. Ripley, the  chilling narrator is already there. Gone Girl seems to flirt with what these great noirs make a beeline for—the chilling realization of murder as an almost prosaic human potential and the psychopathology that seems so porous in our animal brains.

The bigger themes; how fragile are society’s law to contain our primate instincts, what roles do morality, decency, play in creating a behavioral norm most people respect?  Can anyone cross that line to commit murder under the right duress?  Is conscience an artificial construct or an evolved human instinct?  These are, in to my mind, what any great noir brings to question.

Ultimately, a great noir gives you the mesmerizing chills, twists and turns you enjoy, while perhaps wishing they were not leading where you think they are. And at the ending, despite inevitability or a shocking surprise, you feel an enormous sense of regret. GONE GIRL gives you a more ambiguous ending and no hero or anti heroine you might actually want to triumph. We liked it but were disappointed. I hope her next book is less clever and more direct to the darkness and it’s primal meaning.

This is not to say it's not worth reading. I just think it is good enough to generate expectations that aren't quite there. I look forward to Ms. Flynn's next one.