MysteryPeople Double Feature: GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn

Come by BookPeople this upcoming Monday, August 22nd, at 7 PM, for a screening of Gone Girl [2014], followed by a discussion of the book and film. The screening will take place on the third floor and is free and open to the public. 

– Post by Molly Odintz

gone girlWhen I sat down last week to read Gillian Flynn’s mega-blockbuster of domestic suspense Gone Girl ahead of our upcoming screening of the film this upcoming Monday, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew before going in that the book had already made waves as a bestseller, despite (or, perhaps, because of) its unlikable female protagonist. My friends who had already read Gone Girl assured me that the husband was just as bad, although an unlikable male protagonist, in the form of the anti-hero, is much more pervasive.

As a passionate reader of mysteries and an ardent feminist, it would be difficult for me to underestimate the impact of Gone Girl in encouraging publishers to embrace challenging, complex female characters. The early aughts brought with them the compelling but simplistic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the late aughts ushered in the era of The Girl in the Title, in which one Swede and a host of imitators forever linked “girl” with “dark and twisted,” as Flynn Berry pointed out in an interview earlier this year.

Then, with the 2012 release of Gone Girl, we entered into the era of the Unlikable Female Protagonist, previously a category embraced by literary fiction and issued in short print runs, now a qualifier for any bestseller of the domestic suspense variety. Why, you might ask, would I consider an unlikable female protagonist as a positive for feminism?

First, it would be patronizing to write every female character as a sop, morally superior to the no-damn-good men around her, who are thus freed from the responsibility of matching womanly perfection. A woman in literature, just as in life, has a right to complex motivations and wicked behavior.

Second, society has a problem with its willingness to listen to those women not bending over backwards to appeal to their audience. Maybe it’s time to have a whole trend of listening to women we don’t like, because their opinions, feelings, and experiences are just as complex and valid as those of the girl next door, or as Flynn calls it in Gone Girl, the “cool girl.” Gone Girl‘s Amy is not just hard to like – she’s been wronged, viscerally, and irreversibly, and her vengeance, while over-the-top, comes to a place of legitimate pain.

It’s difficult to say much about this book without discussing its abrupt, fascinating end, and so if you continue beyond this point, SPOILER ALERT. I repeat, SPOILER ALERT.

I’d like to spend some time discussing whether or not Gone Girl could possibly be considered feminist. It would be easy to dismiss the book as some equivalent to Twilight or 50 Shades of Gray – women’s fiction, read by women, loved by women, and yet promoting either violence against women or starring female characters engaged in stereotypical behavior, described in a misogynist way. Gone Girl does indulge in nearly every elemental fear a man might possess upon his wife’s discovery of his illicit affair – fear of poison, fear of false accusations of rape and abuse, fear of the murder of their spouse, fear of going down for the murder of their spouse, and fear of themselves, for that which they have already done and feel no guilt.

Gone Girl also showcases many of the most elemental (and somewhat more realistic) fears a woman can have about her marriage: gaslighting, accusations of mental instability, exploitation of financial resources, isolation from friends and family, and of course, infidelity, especially infidelity with a younger woman.

If Amy had pursued her goals of vengeance and a new normal, and then failed, then she would fall victim to literary censorship of her behavior. Getting away with it, however, is almost an endorsement, a statement to hetero, cisgender males that they do have something to fear from women, but only when they deserve it. There was once a rule in theater wherein, a character may act as depraved (according to the standards of the time) as they would like up until just before the last act, yet had to reform in the last act in order to no longer challenge society’s standards. With a resolution punishing characters for bad behavior came a message that society as a whole would not accept such behavior.

Gone Girl, on the other hand, has the ending of the classic comedy, or the classic bildungsroman – it ends with the return of a wandering wife, and the promise of a new child. Gone Girl does not end in judgement, but rather, with applause. The twist on the traditional happy ending, more than any other aspect of the novel, convinces me that Gone Girl is one of the most feminist novels I’ll ever read.

You can find copies of Gone Girl on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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