My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There has been a lot of buzz in literary circles recently about whether fiction must, or should always, have likable characters. It's a valid question, I suppose, at least for some readers. I know one who swears he won't read a novel unless there's a character in it that he can like and sympathize with. He gave up on Jonathan Franzen for that reason.
It's interesting that the current discussion seems to always involve the work of female writers. I don't see any critics asking the aforementioned Jonathan Franzen why he doesn't have more likable characters in his work.
It's quite likely that there is an element of sexism in the question, as there seems to be an element of sexism in the assessment of most human endeavors in this country. Women are trained from the womb to be "likable" and so we expect women writers to create likable characters.
The lack of a likable character, though, does not seem to have held Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl back overmuch. As I write this, the book has now spent sixty - that's 60 - consecutive weeks on the New York Times best seller list, and it has two of the most unlikable, narcissistic, downright psychopathic or sociopathic characters that you will find in the pages of a novel.
Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years as the book opens. In fact, it is their fifth anniversary. The marriage started propitiously enough. They were young and in love. They were both writers. Nick wrote for a magazine. Amy constructed popular personality quizzes for magazines. They lived in New York. They were rich, courtesy of Amy's parents who were the authors of a popular series of children's books modeled on their daughter called Amazing Amy. Amazing Amy was a paragon of virtues, a perfect child in every way. Amy and Nick lived an enchanted, carefree life based on money that flowed from that perfect character.
Then they both lost their jobs and Nick's parents back in Missouri got very sick and it all began to fall apart.
They moved back to Missouri to take care of the sick parents. Amy hated the town and the people. By this time, they had lost nearly all of their money. Amy's parents were nearing bankruptcy and had to borrow money from their daughter's trust fund. Then Nick wanted to buy a bar and they used the last of Amy's money to purchase it. Nick and his twin sister Margo would run it. Everything was spiraling downward fast. Including the once idyllic marriage.
Then on their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappeared.
Nick came home from work that day to find the front door of the house open, furniture in the living room overturned, and evidence that there had been blood spilled and cleaned up in the kitchen. And no trace of Amy. The police were called and the investigation began. The main question to be answered was, is Amy dead and did Nick kill her?
Flynn's method is to give us alternating viewpoints of the two main characters, so we get a chapter in Nick's words and then a chapter in Amy's words. For the first part of the book, Amy's words are courtesy of a "diary" that she left behind, a document that paints an incriminating picture of Nick. Slowly, both of the characters are revealed as sly and manipulative and strangers to the truth. Thoroughly unlikable, both of them.
I admire Flynn's plotting. It really is ingenuous, impeccable and fast-paced, designed to keep the pages turning. It achieves its aim. I raced through the book of more than 400 pages.
I have to say that one of my favorite parts of this book was something that a lot of people might not have noticed. It was Flynn's correct usage of objective pronouns and the fact that she pointed it out to her readers! Dare I guess that, like me, one of her pet peeves is the now almost universally incorrectly used "I" for "me," as in "It is important for Nick and I to have some time alone." Instead, Flynn correctly writes:
They say it's important for Nick and me (the correct grammar) to have some time alone and heal.
See, she knows that some people are going to think that "me" is incorrect so she takes pains to put in parentheses "the correct grammar." I love it!
In fact, there are lots of things to love about this dark tale. I can understand its popularity. But if you are looking for likable characters, give this book a pass.
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