Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Story About Marriage and A Discussion of Many Things

I loved the book 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.

Suspenseful Thriller
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.

Feminist Themes
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.

Staying Married
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.


  1. I have been very curious to hear what you thought of this book. I truly had a love/hate relationship with it. Nick was pathetic, yet somewhat likable and Amy's sociopathic ways made me fear for my own life! The crudeness was more of a turn off for me than I had anticipated and I am wondering if it was because of the bleakness of the story or because I am just getting old?
    Now when I see a dysfunctional marriage I may think to myself, "Is she an Amy or is he a Nick?"

    1. i laughed out loud at this comment because i felt like mom was judging me when i was reading it since she had JUST told me how she told her book group that they shouldn't read it after she previewed it. (mom, i know you don't judge me. it WAS a little crude for my taste...)

  2. I love your analysis of this book. So brilliant. And I love this book. and Gillian Flynn.

  3. I'm sure you've read "The Time Traveler's Wife." I love it for a lot of the same reasons, mainly looking at how a marriage can survive and grow in spite of either partners serious flaws including drug abuse, mental illness, instability etc. Sounds like "Gone Girl" will be a good read.

  4. I haven't read the book, but really liked reading what you had to say about it, especially about our family relationships being a big part of our personal refining and perfecting process. That thought stayed with me all day. Thanks for writing a blog that's truly a favorite, for posts like this as much as for TV show analysis and ward party playlists.

  5. I loved this book. I also read her book Sharp Objects. It was very well written, also. I enjoyed your blog post about marriage and the "cool girl" stereotype. I am so glad you are on your blog right now! Woot!!

  6. Seriously, I've never read anything like it before. Couldn't put it down. It was seriously fascinating. But the language? Foul. Have you read Before I Go to Sleep? Also a fantastic thriller about a marriage.

  7. i totally read this book just because i was reading this post and got to the first spoiler and immediately stopped reading so that i could read the book and then finish reading this post. same reason i read swamplandia! too. does it blow your mind how much power your blog wields for me??!

  8. My goodness, I actually just came from Costco and saw her books on the beloved book table. Her books caught my eye and I actually put them on my to read list- and I'm so glad I did! time to get reading!

  9. This post is a joke, right? Sweetheart, if you are this confused on what marriage is ...

  10. Melissa - Do you think you could be a little less vague?

    I happen to be in a marriage with this "sweetheart" and I think she sums up what a marriage is / should be: "Marriage has no power to change the future if it has no power to bind during hard times" and "Isn't it within a marriage and within a family that we become better people? " Those are both good summaries of what I believe to be our pretty ideal marriage (at least in my opinion). But perhaps I am confused as well. Happily confused.

  11. I started reading this post back in November but had this book checked out from the library so I (also) stopped at the first spoiler and came back now that I finally got around to reading it. I agree with all your thoughts and have also spent a lot of time after reading it thinking about all the marriage stuff you mentioned, and especially the "cool girl" (et al) persona.
    Something else I thought was interesting was Nick's discussion of how the media has come to affect so much of what we say, think, do and how no one is acting/reacting genuinely anymore. I totally agree with your thoughts here on the "true self" but did find it interesting to think about so many of the things that I expect to happen or think I should do or feel or say in different situations coming from all the things I have read or seen or heard somewhere before.

  12. Kacy, I love that your husband stood up for you in the comments! I'd say I love him, but he's yours and I love my OWN husband, but you know what I mean. I absolutely loved Gone Girl, but said I couldn't "technically recommend it" based on language, then I'd recommend it on the sly behind the back of my hand! I have a hard time putting books down in general, but putting this one down was nigh on IMPOSSIBLE... so it's hard NOT to recommend a book like that! I, however, read it on the shallow suspense/thriller level, so I really enjoyed your more thorough discussion of themes. DANG, where is a book club of foul-languaged books when you need one? I think you hit the nail on the head in so many places where I just vaguely thought "I love this! It's twisted, but true, and I don't know why but I love it!" Thanks for your nail-hitting and stand-up husband, you two made my day.


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