Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Mary Gaitskill Is Not a Fan of Gone Girl

Over at Bookforum, Mary Gaitskill goes contrarian on one of last year's biggest bestsellers:

The sick and dark of Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, is less in the plot (which is a masterpiece of cuckoo-clockwork), more in the book’s vision. [...] Amy and Nick do not resemble actual people so much as grotesquely smiling masks driven by forces of extreme artifice, and it’s exactly that extreme artificial quality that’s frightening to the point of sickening.

What I mean by “artifice” is social language, styles, and manners, a public way of being that is by necessity coded, fixed, and hard, and which has become even more so through the emergence of the virtual world. In physical life, the hardness and (frequent) deceptiveness of such language is offset by the deep, doggishly honest presence of the body; in the virtual world, such animal presence is either absent or faked. Gone Girl doesn’t compare to other books so much as it evokes flipping through TV shows (including the news) and glimpsing face after chirping face, all with only slight variations on the same manner of speech and “smart,” high-speed delivery common to Facebook, texting, and tweeting; that is to say, the book evokes (impressively, one might argue) a hyperartificial, hive-minded way of relating, combined with what has become a cultural ideal of relentless feminine charm tied to power and control.

To my ear, Gaitskill writes sex and aggression and fierce, surprising gender dynamics better than most any writer working today; because she's been in Gone Girl territory many times before (if to the end of precarious intimacy rather than chills and thrills), it's fascinating to see her reject what she seems to identify as Flynn's implicit approval of her character's worldview.

Amy—a paragon of self-possession who always has the last word—constantly typecasts others in the most rigid and demeaning way. Here’s how she sums up the young woman Nick turns out to be fucking: “Taking his cock in her mouth, all the way to the root so he feels extra big as she gags. Taking it in her ass, deep. Taking cum shots to the face and tits, then licking it off, yum. Taking, definitely taking. Her type would.” It’s normal, I guess, for a woman to hate her rival. But the hatred and scorn here don’t seem to be about the competition for Nick’s attention; they seem to be about Amy’s disdain for the young woman’s (imagined) receptivity or submissiveness—her lack of control.

The movie adaptation of Gone Girl will be directed by David Fincher and star Rosamund Pike as Amy, Ben Affleck as Nick.


37 Comments / Post A Comment


I am very amused by the little backlash happening with regards to Gone Girl. The same people that, last year, were all over the book have become pretty dismissive of it. I wonder what happened.

(I don't mean that Gaitskill is doing this, just that it seems to be happening among people I know/blogs I read)


Nice. Really nice@m


I kept reading this going "....but wasn't that....the point of the book???"

Or maybe I just horribly misinterpreted Gone Girl?


@royaljunk haha this had me thinking the same thing too... I mean diary!Amy isn't real, those aren't her real thoughts, so to reference Amy's "orphan smile I met a boy" comment... ??? Amy is a sociopath who doesn't have a personality, Amy as-is is a blank slate and she changes her personality at whim.

I'll stay on the bandwagon because I enjoy Gillian Flynn and think her books are entertaining, but I have no interest in discussing "how obvious the plot twist was" or the style of writing because come on people, we're not dissecting the classics.


@royaljunk Agreed! I mean, it was a book about a stone cold sociopath and an approval-seeking people pleaser who are both basically awful people, even though one of them is marginally more sympathetic.


@triplea yes, agreeing with all of this.


@royaljunk Yes.


Interesting, because I never felt that Flynn implicitly or explicitly approved of Amy's world view.

On a side note, I'm gonna complain about the casting of the movie. Nick is supposed to be a few years younger than Amy, and both in their mid- to late-30s. And yet Ben Affleck is my age (early 40s) and I think Rosamund Pike is late 20s. I like Pike a lot as an actress, but they couldn't find someone who really is 38 or 39?

Lily Rowan

@Bittersweet Yeah, my reaction to Affleck was basically two simultaneous thoughts: "Oh, of COURSE" and "Isn't he a little too old?"

God forbid they have a couple where the woman is less than 10 years younger than the man.


@Bittersweet I looked it up, she's 34 so it's better than casting a 24 year old but I do agree with you.

Lily Rowan

@triplea Oh, that actually seems OK to me then, all things considered. HOLLYWOOD.


@Lily Rowan Kind of depressing that we're more accepting of the 8-year age difference here, huh? Compared to some pairings, it's almost realistic. Sigh.


@Bittersweet What did you think about the way Nick's sister, what's-her-face, explicitly despised women, just like Amy did, despite theoretically not being a sociopath herself? That, plus the way you can guess the end-game twists in all the other Flynns so far if you just keep in mind the central in-universe fact that girls and young women are awful, makes it hard for me to trust that Flynn is doing something diabolically clever here with her themes. although I would like her to be, and in the hands of a good director (Coens, say) it would be easy to show her stories as if she had meant something diabolically clever all along.


@Lily Rowan At least Hollywood is mildly better than Bollywood in this respect. :-(


@Bittersweet Go was always Joan Cusack in my head. Constance Zimmer, maybe?

Lily Rowan

Yeeaaahhh, I'm pretty sure the point of the book is that they are both terrible. And she is worse?


I don't know, I think I can see where Gaitskill is coming from somewhat. The diary is Amy's attempt to be sympathetic, and it seemed to me like we really were supposed to find her sympathetic as we read it through, and then be shocked!!! by the twist!!! that it was all a lie and actually she's a terrible person. I mean, I am not a particularly perceptive reader, so the sociopath part of the twist did get me, but I thought diary!Amy was completely insufferable. Unbearably cutesy-snarky and judgmental.


@Lurkasaurus My point being that I did sense an implicit approval of diary!Amy's world view, because that was what was presented to us to make us sympathize with her before the big reveal. And I haaaated it as much as Gaitskill does, although not thought out as consciously or critically.


@Lurkasaurus I also thought diary Amy was completely insufferable. But that made it more interesting later to think back to the diary entries and realize that she was trying to be sympathetic, and that's about as well as she could do.


I liked Sharp Objects far better than Gone Girl, for what it's worth.


Gone Girl is a super shitty book, for sure, but I chewed my own arm off to keep from having conversations about it before because A. what if everything shitty was actually intentional, like the way it reads as if a none-too-bright alien was trying to reconstruct what a two-gendered human species might be and talk and behave like, armed only with a subscription to Cosmo and an earnest conviction that both the people who read and write it are real? Except not as clever as that sounds. and B. it did not deserve the attention.

BUT what is pretty interesting (to me) is that Dark Places is honestly really pretty good. I listened to it rather than read it so a lot of the credit goes to one of the narrators (the other one sucked) but it was a real live book. Extra-impressive next to Gone Girl but really good on its own merits too. Masterfully depressing.


@queenofbithynia This is good to know, because I read Gone Girl and hated it, read Sharp Objects and hated it, and then figured it wasn't worth my hate-energy to read Dark Places. I'll check it out!


@stonefruit I hope I'm not wrong, it's really hard for me to judge from an audio book. I only listen to books when I don't expect them to be much good, because I hate the medium but I need two hours of something to listen to every day. Some combination of the writing and the main female audiobook reader is really good, though.

Although if one thing you didn't like about Sharp Objects was imbalance of attributed loathsome moral damage and responsibility between young boys and young girls, there are things you will not like about this one either.


I mean, but isn't Gaitskill just saying that the character development was cartoonish? (this is a general response to those who are like, "isn't that the point? that Amy is a horrible person?") Like, yes, the point was that she's actually a psychopath, BUT there was no complexity (at least, I didn't think so) to her character? That's the critique I'm pulling out of this "Amy and Nick do not resemble actual people so much as grotesquely smiling masks driven by forces of extreme artifice"


@fabel That's what I concluded, too. It doesn't seem like Gaitskill is critiquing that they are horrible, but more their mannerisms.

And while I enjoyed the book, I did feel the same way I did about the House of Cards pilot, which was, "Okay. Legislators do not have this level of artifice. They don't. Why are they talking so slowly and dramatically. Why."

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

They were both horrible people, and I felt horrified when I either cheered for one of them or identified with one of them. That's what got me about the book. "Oh my god, they are so horrible....oh my god I've felt that feeling before; we're all horrible."

lucy snowe

I still haven't finished it. I borrowed it from the library, and didn't get to it right away, and then... well. Eventually it was ridiculously overdue, and that whole time I thought I wasn't allowed to read it because it needed to be back at the library.

Maybe I'll try again someday.


Good god I hated Gone Girl - it pretty much made me want to remove all humans from the entire earth. But I did read it all the way through even though it turned my insides to razor-blades so ... that's something, I guess.


OMG Gone girl was HORRIBLE.

honey cowl

Can't even think about this book without seeing red. Full of rage that it's so popular and beloved when it is such a pile of shit.


@honey cowl someday Gillian Flynn will write a murder where it is obvious from the second chapter that it was the mean bitch what done it and then there will be a twist where it turns out it was actually the nice lady with the tits what done it and then there will be a twist where it turns out the lady toddler done it because bitches start young these days, and THEN there will be a last-minute twist where it turns out the murderee slipped and fell on a pile of axes and no bitches of any kind done it at all.



@honey cowl I felt the same way. I figured out the twist within the first three or four chapters (whenever the scavenger hunts were discussed for the first time). I thought the Gaitskill essay was thoughtful, and on point.


*cue Icona Pop*


Always super tedious when someone writes a takedown of a thriller that's sold a billion copies. Oh, it's so brave of a critic to pretend they're better than everyone else! After the point where it makes any difference! Like all those Da Vinci Code/Twilight takedowns, by people who'd clearly never read a conspiracy thriller or teen romance in their lives, claiming they were the worst books ever written. They were perfectly adequate examples of genre, and writing a late-stage review to the contrary makes it clear you only read the 3 books a year you see on the front pages of a newspaper.


Twilight was so badly-written I threw it across the room in disgust. And I've read many teen books. DaVinci Code was also poorly-written but the content was so intriguing I enjoyed it anyway. I read mysteries all the time. I don't blame any critics for bashing those books. Now Gillian Flynn is an excellent writer and Sharp Objects was amazing on both the level of writing and the level of plot. Dark Places was pretty good. Gone Girl wasn't nearly as well-written as either of the two, possibly because Flynn was trying out two different voices for Nick and Amy and her well-crafted prose didn't shine through like it did in the two previous thrillers. It was a really slow build-up too and I almost put it down but in the end it was worth finishing. I had to reread the bit that Gaitskill mentions too - I wasn't sure how to interpret that section about "taking". My ex had an affair too and I had and have nothing but scorn for both of them, but that part seemed warped and I agree with Gaitskill it was an aberration meant to show Amy's aberrant controlling and competitive nature. But didn't anyone like myself feel like cheering her on a few times throughout the book? If Amy wasn't quite such a psychopath I might have hailed her a heroine at least in her scheming if not in its planned outcome!


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