“There are two sides to every story” declares the strapline on the cover of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and the author sets us up for the telling by alternating between versions of events as experienced by her protagonists: Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot. It’s the perfect device for what’s she’s got in mind as Nick and Amy’s marriage comprises two very different people. That one of them is a psychopath is something the reader is wholly unprepared for, but that’s the great thing about Gillian Flynn’s novel. It’s filled with the unexpected. Much of it seems to be mundane, because such is the state of marriage, much of the time, but some of it is truly original, which is a rare thing in a genre that’s become predictable. Along with doing the thriller stuff splendidly, Gillian Flynn gives character to her characters. Snippet:
“For several years I had been bored. Not a whining, restless child’s boredom (although I was not above that) but a dense, blanketing malaise. It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as a criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can’t recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn’t immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A fucking commercial. You know the awful singsong of the blasé: Seeeen it. I’ve literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can’t anymore. I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.”
While reading of Gone Girl, a link to an article in Scientific American about a person who enters a high-security psychiatric hospital “to extract tips and advice from a crowd without a conscience” arrived in the inbox. “Wisdom from Psychopaths?” by Kevin Dutton contains the following observation: “A psychopath’s rapacious proclivity to live in the moment, to ‘give tomorrow the slip and take today on a joyride’, is well documented — and at times can be stupendously beneficial. In fact, anchoring your thoughts unswervingly in the present is a discipline that psychopathy and spiritual enlightenment have in common.”
To her great credit, Gillian Flynn has written a novel that is stupendously entertaining about people without a conscience riding the roller coaster of life and spinning the wheel of fortune to terminal effect.