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Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

October 18, 2014 8 comments

A woman's hair is barely visible on the left-hand side of a book cover.  The book's title and author are in red against a black background.Summary:
On Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick comes home from working at the bar he co-owns with his sister to find his wife gone. The door is wide open, furniture is overturned, and the police say there is evidence that blood was cleaned up from the floor of the kitchen.  Eyes slowly start to turn toward Nick as the cause of her disappearance, while Nick slowly starts to wonder just how well he really knows his wife.

Review:
I’d been wanting to read this since it first came out, but when the previews for the movie came out, I knew I also wanted to see the movie, and I just had to read the book first. Because one should always read the book first.  A friend head me talking about it and offered to loan me her copy, and I flew through the book in just a couple of days.  Even though I had guessed whodunit before I even started to read it, I was still swept up in a heart-racing read.

There have been many reviews of Gone Girl, so I am going to try to focus my review in on why I personally loved it, and also address a couple of the controversies about the book.  Any spoilers will be marked and covered toward the end of the review.  Please note that this review is entirely about the book and does not address the movie at all.

The tone of the book sucked me in from the beginning.  How the book alternates between Nick’s current life and Amy’s diary of the early years of their relationship clearly showed that the relationship started out strong and fell apart, and I wanted to see how something so romantic could have gone so awry.  Amy’s diary entries simultaneously sound feminine and realistic.  She swears to the same extent that my friends and I do, and I loved seeing that in romantic, feminine diary entries. Nick’s portions, in contrast, perfectly demonstrated the measured response to a disappearance that could easily happen if a relationship was on the rocks a bit at the time.  Nick’s reactions felt very realistic to me, and I appreciated it.

Even though I predicted the whodunit, I still found the end of the book to be thrilling, as exactly how it happened was not something I was able to predict.

If you don’t want any spoilers and just want to know why you should read the book, let me just say that anyone who has been in a long-term relationship will find the complex relationship between Nick and Amy frightening and chilling and will be left giving their partner side-eye periodically throughout the book.  If you like the idea of a book that makes you freaked out at the thought of how truly awry a relationship can go, then you will enjoy this thriller.

On to the spoilers.

*spoilers*
This book has been accused of misogyny for three reasons.  Nick’s internal dialogue, the character of Amy, and the fact that Amy falsely accuses an ex-boyfriend of rape.  I did not find this book to be misogynistic at all, and I will now address each of these points.

Nick clearly struggles with how he relates to women due to the fact that his dad is a misogynistic bastard.  It is realistic for a good person to struggle with bad internal dialogue due to hearing such dialogue from a parent.  This is a very real thing that happens, and that people go to therapy for.  The very fact that Nick fights against this internal dialogue shows that he knows that it’s wrong and is trying to win out over it.  Just because one character has misogynistic internal dialogue does not make an entire book misogynistic nor does it make that character misogynistic.  It just makes the book realistic.  In fact, I find the fact that Nick ultimately defeats his internal misogynistic dialogue by realizing that it’s ok to hate women who are actually horrible but not all women to be really progressive.  Some women are horrible people. Nick learns to turn his internal “women are bitches” dialogue into “Amy is a bitch,” and I think that’s awesome.  Now, this point is related to the next point, the character of Amy.

There is at least one strain of feminism that thinks that it’s anti-woman to ever portray any women as bad or evil.  There is also the strain of feminism that just says men and women are equal and should be treated equally.  I am a member of the latter portion.  It is equally harmful to never want to admit to women’s capability for evil as it is to say all women are bad or all women are childlike or etc… There are bad women in the world. There are evil women in the world.  Women are not automatically nurturing, women are not automatically good at mothering, women are not automatically goddesses.  Women are capable of the entire spectrum of evil to good, just like men are.  It is unrealistic to act like women are incapable of evil, when we in fact are.  This is why I find the portrayal of Amy as a narcissistic sociopath to be awesome.  Because there are women just like her out there in the world.  I was continually reminded of one I have known personally while I was reading the depiction of Amy.  The patriarchy hurts men and women, and one way that it does so is with the assumption that women are incapable of evil.  Nick and Amy’s other victims are unable to get people to believe them about Amy because Amy is able to externally project the virginal good girl image that the patriarchy expects of her.  They don’t expect her to be evil. She appears to be a card-carrying, patriarchy-approved cool girl, therefore she is not evil and Nick and the others are delusional.  It’s an eloquent depiction of how the patriarchy can hurt men, and I think that a lot of people are misinterpreting that a misogynistic slant.

Finally, the false rape accusation.  Yes, it is extremely unlikely to happen. (An analysis in 2010 of 10 years of rape allegations found that 5.9% were able to proven to be false and 35.3% were proven to be true. The remaining 58.8% fell into a gray area of not being proven either way. Source)  However, this means that false allegations of rape do indeed happen. 5.9% is not zero, and this isn’t even taking into account the gray cases that couldn’t be proven either way.  Just because we have a problem with rape in this country and with rape culture does not mean that every accusation of rape is actually true.  Just as not all men are rapists, not all women are truth-tellers.  And let’s not forget that men can be raped, and women can be falsely accused of rape as well.  Amy’s false rape accusation also fits well within her character development.  As a teenager, she falsely accused a friend of stalking her. Then she accuses this man she dated in her 20s of raping her. Then she frames her husband for her murder.  It’s a clear downward spiral, and the false rape accusation, complete with faking restraint marks on her arm, is a realistic warm-up to her insane attempt at framing her husband for her own murder.  It fits within the character. It is not a malicious, useless, throwaway plot point.  It fits who Amy is, and real life statistics support that it could indeed happen.

All of these aspects of Amy and Nick and Amy’s relationship are part of what made me love the book.  I am tired in thrillers of so often seeing only men as the sociopathic evil.  I have known women to be sociopaths in real life and in the news, and I like seeing that represented in a thriller.  I also appreciate the fact that Nick is by no stretch of the imagination an innocent golden boy.  He has some nasty internal thoughts, and he was cheating on Amy.  And yet I was still able to feel sympathy for the cheating bastard because he gets so twisted up in Amy’s web.  It takes some really talented writing to get me to sympathize with a cheater at all, so well done, Gillian Flynn.

Finally, some people really don’t like the end of the book.  They wanted Amy to get caught or someone to die or something.  I thought the ending of the book was the most chilling of all.  Nick is unable to find out a way to escape Amy, so he rationalizes out their relationship to himself (she makes me try harder to be a better person or face her wrath), and ultimately chooses to stay in the incredibly abusive relationship for the sake of their child when he finds out she was pregnant.  It is realistic that Nick is concerned that if he divorces her he won’t be able to prove anything, she may falsely accuse him of things, and he won’t end up able to see his child.  This is something people on both ends of divorced worry about, and Nick has proof that Amy is unafraid to fake major crimes just to get even with him.  It is so much more chilling to think of Nick being trapped in this toxic relationship, justifying it to himself along the way, in an attempt to protect their child.  Bone. Chilling.  Because it could, can, and does happen.

Overall, the book is an excellent depiction of how the patriarchy hurts men as well as women, depicts a chilling female sociopath, and manages to be thrilling even if you are able to predict the twist.

*end spoilers*

Recommended to thriller fans looking for something different but don’t be surprised if you end up giving your significant other funny looks or asking them reassurance seeking questions for a few days.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Banner for the RIP IX challenge.

Book Review: vN by Madeline Ashby (series, #1)

A white woman's face surrounded by machine parts.Summary:
Amy is 5 year old robot. An exact replica–iteration–of her mother, who is in a relationship with a human male.  Her parents are restricting her food to raise her slowly at a human child’s pace instead of at a robot’s.  But when her grandmother shows up to her kindergarten graduation and threatens her mother, things go haywire.  It quickly becomes apparent that the failsafe that makes robots love humans innately and makes them incapable of withstanding seeing violence against humans has failed to activate in Amy.  She finds herself full-grown and on the run from humans and her robot aunts alike as she struggles to figure out who she is and what her existence means to humanity.

Review:
Artificial Intelligence/Robot books tend to take a bit more to draw me in than say a zombie book.  It’s really hard to do AI in a way that is simultaneously scientifically/culturally believable and unique.  Frankly, I need a bit more believability in an AI book than in a zombie one, since AI is real science.  Plus, the book should examine their cultural place in the world, and that needs to be believable.  I am pleased to say that this book gets it mostly right.  It’s enjoyable, scientifically minded, culturally thought-provoking, and examines a real life issue in the context of genre, which long-time readers of this blog know is something I highly enjoy.

The first thing that made me know this is a smart book is the source of the robots (called Von Neumanns after their creator).  A fundamentalist group in the American South decided that the humans left behind after Jesus’ Second Coming should have someone to help them through the Tribulation, so they invented humanoid robots to be ready to help.  Clearly, the Second Coming didn’t happen, and the fundamentalists ended up selling Von Neumanns, and the Von Neumanns wind up a part of the cultural backdrop, not to mention the porn industry.  As a character says to Amy:

There are only two industries in this world that ever make any kind of progress: porn, and the military. And when they hop in bed together with crazy fundamentalists, we get things like you. (location 1944)

This is the most unique and engaging origin story for robots that I’ve seen, plus it makes sense and provides cultural commentary.  The Von Neumanns originated as a religious experiment, were swiped by the military and the porn industry, and became a part of everyday life.  It’s just an awesome origin story for the world that Amy is in.

The characters, including the robots, are three-dimensional.  Everyone has complex motivations and the main characters definitely grow and progress with time.  No one is presented as pure evil or good.

The plot is similarly complex.  There’s a lot going on in Amy’s world, and none of it is predictable.  What is the failsafe precisely and is it a good or a bad thing?  Is it a natural progression that it doesn’t work in Amy?  What about how Amy’s mother and grandmother reacted to the human world around them?  Did they see accurate shortcomings or were they just malfunctioning?  And what about how the various humans use the Von Neumann’s?  For instance, pedophiles acquire Von Neumanns and keep them young by starving them.  Is this a good, harmless thing since it protects human children or have robots evolved to be far more than just a machine?  The world is complex and full of tough questions, and thus is challenging and unpredictable, making for an engaging read.

What I most enjoyed though was how the whole book presents the question of nature versus nurture in a genre setting.  Are we our parents with no hope of improvement or escape?  Or do we have more say in the matter than just our genetics or “programming”?  Amy has a psychopathic grandmother and a mother who has made questionable choices.  Does this mean that Amy is evil or malfunctioning or even capable of being something different from the rest of her family?  All of these questions lead to some interesting stand-offs, one of which includes my favorite quote of the book:

An iteration isn’t a copy, Mother. It’s just the latest version. I’m your upgrade. That’s why I did what I did. Because I’m just better than you. (location 2581)

All that said, there were two things that kept this back from five stars for me.  First, some of the writing style choices Ashby uses drew me out of the story a bit. They are periodically highly artistic in a way that didn’t jibe with the story for me.  I get why she made those choices, but as a reader they aren’t ones that generally work for me.  Second, one thing that really drew me out of the story is the fact that the robot’s boobs don’t move.  This is mentioned at one point as being a way to tell if a woman is robot or not.  This drew me out of the world very hard while I laughed uproariously.  I’m sorry, but machines designed by men would simply not have hard plastic boobs.  Their boobs would bounce, dammit.  This would at least be in the top 10 list of robot requirements.  It simply wasn’t a realistic design choice, and it pulled me out of the story to such an extent that it lost the believability for a bit for me.

Overall, this is a creatively written and complex scifi artificial intelligence story that examines not just what makes us human but also individuality and uniqueness separate from parents and family.  Some of the more artistic writing choices and high levels of violence might not appeal to all audiences, but if you’re an AI or scifi lover with an interest in nature versus nurture and stories featuring strong female leads, you should definitely give this a go.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely (Series, #1) (The Real Help Reading Project)

January 28, 2012 4 comments

Black woman standing in front of house with hand on hip.Summary:
Blanche’s employers failed to pay her on time, and now she has some bad checks.  She had no idea that bouncing a few checks would land her with a 30 day jail sentence, though, so when she gets the chance, Blanche goes on the lam.  She decides to take a temporary job she had originally decided against as a way to hide out.  She’s going to be the help for a family on a week-long vacation in the countryside.  Naturally, things can never be simple, and Blanche starts to suspect one of the family members is a murderer.

Review:
It’s hard to believe Amy and I are on our penultimate book for the project, not to mention the final fiction book on the list.  And what a book!  If I had to pick one of the fiction books we read to hand to fans of The Help to get a much more real representation of black women in domestic service, this is definitely the book I would hand them.

Somehow this tiny mystery novel (called a Kriminalroman in German, which I think sounds much better) manages to cover pretty much every aspect of black female domestic workers’ lives that we’ve discussed throughout the project.  Blanche faces: police and criminal justice prejudice, stinginess on the part of wealthy employers, rape at the hands of a white male employer, classism, employers’ racist attempts to control her body, non-traditional family structure, and much much more.  Yet facing all of those odds, Blanche remains determined and strong.  She is not someone who needs OR wants a white woman (or man) to come along and rescue her.  I think Blanche’s personality is best summed-up here:

She always returned to domestic work. For all the chatelaine fantasies of some of the women for whom she worked, she was really her own boss, and her clients knew it. She was the expert. She ordered her employers’ lives, not the other way around. She told them when they had to be out of the way, when she would work, and when she wouldn’t. (page 86)

That’s one of the wonderful things about this book.  It turns the whole white woman saving the help thing from The Help on its head.  Blanche is the one who saves the white family in this book, and then she refuses to accept help from them in return, beyond clearing up her ridiculously unfair legal troubles.  Instead of taking a cushy job with them, she leaves, because she is her own woman.

Now, all of that said, I was personally a bit distracted from the race and class issues in this book due to the presence of the character Mumsfield.  Mumsfield is the cousin of the sinister family members, and he has Down’s Syndrome.  I don’t think all of my readers know this, but my niece has Down’s, so I certainly am a bit sensitive to the portrayal of it in literature.  Knowing and loving a person with Down’s removes a lot of the misperceptions of it that exist in the world.  At first, I was concerned that Neely had fallen for these things.  Mumsfield at first seems too trusting, too caring, a real simpleton.  But by the end of the book, Blanche realizes that she hadn’t really listened to what Mumsfield was actually saying earlier in the week.  If she had, she would have realized that while Mumsfield is kind and giving, he’s not stupid.  Knowing Mumsfield also helps Blanche see that her experiences as a black woman in America have made her racist against white people, when not all of them are bad.  Thus, I am pleased to report that Mumsfield is actually an accurate and positive portrayal of people with Down’s.

Now, I will say, personally I’m not generally into the typical mystery novel.  I like to get my genre reading from urban fantasy, pnr, and cozies.  I am well aware, though, that a lot of people love this kind of book, and it is definitely well-done.  It has all of the well-loved aspects of the genre, plus manages to address race, class, and even Down’s Syndrome.  It is absolutely a worthwhile read.

Source: Public Library

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Discussion Questions:

  • How do you feel about Blanche’s initial jail sentence and her decision to go on the lam?
  • Blanche sees Mumsfield as an exception to the rule when it comes to white people, aka it’s unusual for them to be kind.  Do you think this is an unfair assessment?
  • Blanche assesses her caring for Mumsfield as a symptom of “Darkies Disease” aka when the help start acting like the idealized Mammies.  What do you think of this assessment?

Friday Fun! (Announcements Galore)

September 10, 2010 5 comments

Hello my lovely readers! I actually have a few exciting blog announcements for you today!

First, I set up an aStore. An aStore is your own personal section on Amazon full of items you recommend. I have five categories: books, movies, tv shows, videogaming, and household. Every single item in my store is something I’ve personally read/watched/played/whatever and would give at least 4 out of 5 stars to. Since it’s just recommendations, you’re still buying the items from Amazon or a third-party seller, not me, but I do get a small percentage of the profit as a thanks from Amazon for referring you to them. There is a link to the store on the right sidebar of my blog, so if you want a centralized list of trust-worthy reading/viewing/playing recommendations with easy 1 or 2 click buying, please check it out! It’s good for me and good for you. It’s a win/win.

Next, I realized how embarrassingly odd and disorganized my categories were. I was still pretty much using the same ones I set up the first couple of weeks I was blogging before I really realized what I’d be posting on a regular basis. I didn’t even have genre categories for my plethora of book reviews. How annoying for you guys! I mean, say you like the dystopian reviews, but there was not category for that. Blergh. So, I totally revamped the categories. Not only did I add genres, but I also made these Friday Fun posts and Imminent Arrivals and TBR posts their own categories. It’s exciting and organized and it made me happy! Be sure to check it out, and please let me know if there are any categories that you think don’t make much sense. What makes sense to me might not make sense to people that aren’t me, after all.

Hokay, finally I wanted to give you guys a heads-up that next week is going to be a bit different as I’m participating in Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW).  Basically, it’s a week every September since 2008 that exists “to recognize the hard work and contribution of book bloggers to the promotion and preservation of a literate culture actively engaged in discussing books, authors, and a lifestyle of reading.”  It consists of themed posts, visiting blogs new to you, and awards!  It’s an awesome idea, and major props to Amy of My Friend Amy for coming up with it.  I just missed it last year, and I’m excited to participate this year.  So next week in addition to my regular schedule of reviews there will also be the BBAW daily posts.  Each day will have a different theme like the first book blog you read, so it should still be interesting for my readers who aren’t book bloggers.

That’s it for announcements!  I hope you enjoy the store, the categories, and the BBAW posts next week.  🙂