Gone Girl by Gillian Flinn. I recommend it reservedly because it contains a moderate amount of very crude language but the writing is great and the story is compelling. It is, in fact, one of the most thought-provoking books I've read all year and I'll tell you why.
First and foremost Gone Girl is a psychological thriller. It starts with the 5th wedding anniversary of Nick and Amy Dunne. Amy has turned up missing and it seems like Nick may have killed her. The book alternates between perspectives--a sort of "he said/she said." The "she said" is told through entries from Amy's diary. Remember, she's missing. We get to know her through her diary.
It was these diary entries that initially intrigued me the most because they talked about something I'm interested in: The image women often create for themselves to make men like them. Amy calls it the "cool girl" but you see variations of it in all kinds of movies and YouTube videos about Spring Break. It's the fun girl who is totally chill but loves guy stuff and being sexy. There are Mormon manifestations of it as well which turn up on mommy blogs. This is the sexily domestic woman who glories in patriarchy. I'm talking about stereotypes and a social phenomenon, of course--I know there are real women who genuinely love Fantasy Football and/or baking cupcakes in an apron and red lipstick. I'm just saying that I think a lot of women adopt a persona to make themselves more attractive to men. And Amy is very self-aware about adopting this cool girl image.
Imperfect People In Marriage
This breaks down a bit later when you find out that [SPOILER] the diaries are fake. Amy wrote 7 years of fake diary entries in order to frame her husband for murder. So now she's just an awesome, committed genius trying to get back at her husband for [SPOILER] having an affair. That's a story I could get behind. But you have the added layer that both people are somewhat narcissistic and one is certainly a sociopath. This is something else I'm interested in because everyone has some flaw or unappealing personality trait that can complicate how well they do in marriage. But the rules of marriage are the same for everyone--love and honor your spouse in sickness and health. Does that mean through a spouse's depression, selfishness, job loss, or any number of other failings?
I'm also interested in how a marriage works between sociopaths and narcissists very literally because there are people like this who marry. I can think of 2 right off the top of my head. How fascinating to read about how this kind of marriage might work. In Gone Girl, at least, it's pretty twisted.
I am lucky because I find it very easy to be married. I don't feel that I "have to work at" my marriage. It's just not my particular struggle. I'm grateful. But I've seen bad, hard marriages and I know people who struggle. It's difficult to know if and when divorce is a viable solution. If marriage is just a celebration of being in love, it could possibly be fleeting. But I take the long view of marriage. I take the view that Amy and Rory take before they jump off a building to die together and reverse a paradox: "Changing the future--That's marriage."
Marriage has no power to change the future if it has no power to bind during hard times. Usually I would say people should stay married except in the case of abuse or something really egregious. Well, Amy and Nick stay married not only through normal hardship (job loss, money problems, family illness and death) but also through framing, faking a death, and a real murder. It's egregious. It's very dark and often hilarious, but I really admire their level of commitment. Way to stay married.
Being Better than You Are
Neither one of the 2 main characters has good intentions. Nick becomes a better husband--thoughtful, attentive--because he fears for his life. Amy also reveals that some of her better moments are fake or contrived. This is an interesting component of the plot, but it makes me wonder. It's definitely best to do things for the right reasons. But isn't doing the right thing for the wrong reasons still better than doing the wrong thing? It is. It's not ideal, but it's OK and even admirable. I am often not motivated by charitable feelings toward my children when I take care of them or act more patient than I am feeling. But I do it and it is the right thing to do. The case of Nick and Amy is extreme and, even, somewhat cray cray. But I like thinking about it and I interpreted their story as an allegory of marriage.
Amy tells Nick, "The only time in your life you've ever liked yourself was pretending to be someone I might like." I guess you could argue that he's just pretending, that he's not being his "true self" but I'm sick of people being their true self. It's always people being their "true selves" who act like jerks and leave their wives. Who's to say who your true self is? Isn't acting better similar to being better?
In the end Nick is acting like a perfect husband because he fears Amy. Is this the same as her acting like a "cool girl" to woo him at the beginning of their relationship? I'm not sure. I don't think so, but maybe. It's complicated, but he does seem to like himself more when he is being a stand-up guy, which is all Amy wants. He is self-loathing when he is misbehaving (having an affair, acting like a jerk) whereas the "cool girl" image doesn't make women like themselves more or feel good. Why do I think it's OK for a husband to act like something that he's not in order to please his wife when it bothers me if a woman does this? More fascinating stuff!
Isn't it within a marriage and within a family that we become better
people? I've started to think lately that the church stresses family not
just as an eternal organizational unit but as the means to
salvation--not just by being in one, but through surviving it. I'm
noticing that many people's greatest trials come through their families
and I am noticing that any improvement I have made personally has been
through being in a family and serving when I don't feel like it. For me it has come through being forced to be selfless in serving my kids, but I can see that marriage could act as a refining fire as well. I've seen men be better through thoughtful consideration of their demanding wives or through making sacrifices by working at jobs they hate to support people they love.
This book is not about that stuff, but it does hint at it.
Like I said before, Gone Girl is primarily a suspenseful thriller. It succeeds at that with lots of interesting twists and turns. It turns romantic love on its head with characters and situations that seem hideous and unthinkable. It is dark and clever and fun. It's very crude at times--I had to skim a bit. But at the end of this crazy story I found myself thinking, Yes! For better or for worse--families are forever.