Tag Archives: Gone Girl

Fates and Furies: Gone Girl Meets East of Eden

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For years I read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden every spring. I read it in the spring because its setting was the lush Salinas valley (okay – “Eden”); I loved it because it held the idea that we can choose the direction of our life. (I also probably loved it because it was one of the first books I read during the end of highschool/undergrad that I recognized – on my own! – the way the book was artfully (though not subtly in this case) making meaning: all of the A names are good! The C names evil!). I wanted to believe then (just as I do now) that we humans can make choices (within the constraints of our circumstances…).

Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (as the title suggests)also explores this idea of the limits of choice. The novel follows the marriage of Lotto (short for Lancelot – as if we needed the reminder that the name of characters signifies something about their thematic role) and Mathilde as they navigate a life of literal and figurative theatre: he is a playwright, they both perform for the world and one another. Attempting to be on the stage of life what they think will earn them the most love (and applause), eschewing honesty for its risk: loss. The novel did not succeed (for this reader) in bringing anything new to the idea of a fated life or one full of intention. It plays around with the ways deception (both the explicit lie and the untold truth) frustrates and enables choice with some interest, but for the most part circles familiar territory.

In its form it recalls Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train in a sort of repressed hysteria of women-can’t-be-trusted and the self-satisfied triumph of revealing as much in a formal break in narrative voice midway through the text. The first half of the novel gives us a third person limited on Lotto: his love for Mathilde, his tortured relationship with his mother and family inheritance, his need for approval and adoration. The second half brings us something like a Gone Girl explosion. Mathilde is not what she seems! Women are mostly temptress, seductress whores unless they are beacons of goodness (*cough* another East of Eden parallel…). Under the calm exterior of every woman is a roiling example of evil incarnate and barely controlled fury. Throughout both section the narrator/authorial voice interrupts in parentheses to let us know what is really going on – the playwright inserting the intended reading. It is, at moments, a compelling device, however it is unevenly deployed (almost as though it’s been forgotten at some points and at others with little effect except to be novel). I suppose that’s my complaint about the form of the novel: it reads like a overly workshopped story, intent on being taken seriously, a little too satisfied with the creativity of its changing narrative voices.

Unlike Gone Girl there’s merit in this novel. There are interesting ideas about choice and deception, and moments of great writing and formal play. The caveat is that you have to muck about with a bunch of obvious Symbols and handwringing Theme for those moments. A good one to take on a plane or to the beach in that it reads quickly and requires very little of the reader. Plus there’s a bazillion sex scenes. Because you know, women. They’re so sexy. And furious.

 

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Gone Girl: So. Terrible.

I’m training for another marathon (have I mentioned that already?) and so am back into listening to books while training (nothing like a good “read” to get you through the kilometres). My latest listen was to Gillian Flynn’s *Gone Girl* and I’m sorry to report that it was Just Terrible.

Sentences like “he was so angry his head literally exploded” —> needless to say the rest of the paragraph did not focus on a headless protagonist as the “literally” might have you believe <— occur with a frustrating regularity. The contrived oppositional accounts of events do, at first, provide some interesting questions about narrative reliability, but the device gets dull as the intent for the back-and-forth becomes a clear echo of the “he said” “she said” question the book asks about reliability and persuasion. In short the form reflects the content far too closely to be anything other than obnoxious.

And then there’s the sexism. The reduction of women to whores, bitches or saints with nothing else to complicate them – no stand alone reasons for their actions or feelings – all is naught but evidence of their eternal and inherent archetypes. It was gross. And frustrating. And so terrible.

Forget the hype. Ignore the book. There’s nothing thrilling about wishing – so hard – that characters would just kill one another already and finding that they just won’t. 

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