Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Personal Rule Change

For years, I've followed a simple rule:  If I don't like the first novel by an author, I don't read the follow-ups.  The reason for this was simple--the first novel an author puts out, like the first album a band puts out, should just hum.  The story, the style, all of it honed and crafted.  The writer has had years to get that thing right, and like my friend Daryl Gregory says, the first novel is your one and only chance to make it as perfect as possible before it's published because after that, you're on deadlines most of the time.  Make sense?

So back in 2010 after I read Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects, which had received a lot of praise, I said, "Nope, no more."  I didn't like that novel.  I found the story unoriginal and flat on the page.  So I was done with Flynn books.  No worries though, plenty of other author's out there, right?

Then Flynn's Gone Girl came out a couple of years ago, and again, lots - no, TONS - of praise.  I heard of some great twist and an ending that really divided people.  My wife read it and told me she thought I would really like it.  Other people I respected said the same thing.  But nope, I wasn't going to do it.  I had a rule I followed, and I'd be damned if Flynn would get me again.

But I got worn down.  My wife continued to say I should read it.  I kept reading film updates.  And man, that trailer for David Fincher's upcoming adaptation is just fantastic.  Right in my wheelhouse.  So I found my wife's copy and read it in a couple of days.

And oh man.

Gone Girl is just excellent.  I read a lot of crime novels, but this is probably the best one I've read in years.  The story isn't anything new - a woman goes missing, investigation follows - but Flynn's handing of it is what makes the novel so good.  Flynn also pulls off one of the greatest twists I've ever seen in a novel, and this from someone who reads everything anticipating twists.  I won't go into what the twist is, but if you've read the novel, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  It's like Flynn lures you farther and farther out into the ocean saying, "See, it's safe out here.  No worries", not realizing she's taking you into shark infested waters.  I sat and thought on that twist for days, thinking about how she'd pulled it off, how she manipulated the reader's assumptions, and just being jealous as hell about all of it.  I have no idea how Fincher can make the twist work in the movie, but if anyone can pull it off, he can.

Oh, and the writing...again, excellent.  Amy's voice in the diary entries here is just dead-on perfect.  Then there's this section, my favorite in the entire book (Maybe a spoiler alert?  I don't know):

That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl.  Men always say that as the defining compliment, don't they?  She's a cool girl.  Being the Cool Girl means I'm a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she's hosting the world's biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.  Hot and understanding.  Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want.  Go ahead, shit on me, I don't mind, I'm the Cool Girl.

God, that's brilliant, right?  So well-written.  And so true.  Men do think that way.  In fact, there are a lot of moments in  this novel where I think Flynn must have men tied up in her basement tortured  into divulging all of the secrets of male thinking.  She nails the complexities of marriage, too.  And at times she's awesomely vulgar, which I fully appreciate.

So that old rule of mine about not reading follow-ups if I didn't like the book is just that, an old rule.  Gone.  And maybe next time I'll listen to my wife a little more.  :)  Heck, that's even one of the lessons of the book, I think, so there's that.

Go read this book now, and feel free to complain about the ending with me.  Personally, I thought it was the only possible ending.  Others, lots of them, disagree.  But that's what's fun about books, right?

Happy reading.


  1. I haven't read any Flynn. But I definitely aspire to the philosophy: you only get to debut once.

  2. Matt, I think that's a great philosophy for writers. That first book you release...man, it has to hum or you're tripping right at the starting line.