Review: Gone Girl

I was never one to read a psychological thriller.  Then… I read Gone Girl.

Nick and Amy Dunne are auspicious young writers who met, as many writers do, in New York City.  Nick came from a small town known as North Carthage, Missouri to make a name for himself in journalism.  Though born a city girl, Amy held similar aspirations.  Her parents had made a living writing children’s books featuring Amazing Amy, a character the “real” Amy has struggled to emulate.  The two writers are a perfect couple with the perfect life: until the recession starts to eliminate their job market.  What’s more, they learn Nick’s mother has been diagnosed with cancer.  It only makes sense to move back to Missouri.  In order to make ends meet, Nick decides to open a bar.  Amy contributes the remains of her savings to make this happen but is unable to find work herself.  They are about to celebrate their 5 year anniversary when Amy disappears.  Though Nick is the police’s prime suspect, his guilt cannot be confirmed.  In fact, it seems very few details regarding Amy’s disappearance can be confirmed. As various clues and alibis start to contradict each other.  The police struggle to build a coherent case.  The question remains: Where is Amy?  

 

Gone Girl is not necessarily a “new” release, as the original publishing date was in 2012 and the film adaptation was released in 2014, but I still feel obligated to review (and praise) Gillian Flynn for her work.  As I stated above, I was not typically drawn to her genre but then I was required to read Gone Girl for a critical reading course in college. I was totally sucked in and wrote as much about the book as possible.

 

I promptly bought Flynn’s other novels: Sharp Objects (2006) and Dark Places (2009) and was happy to find that Gillian Flynn is inventive in all her books.  She writes to achieve rumination rather than resolution and forces readers to challenge their comfortability with principal characters.  There are neither “heroes” nor light-hearted adventures.  To be crystal clear, Flynn writes for a mature audience.  

 

My favorite aspects of Gone Girl is Flynn’s use of dual and unreliable narration.  These two literary techniques aren’t always used together, but I do think they work together nicely to prove that multiple perspectives are integral to the plot of a successful thriller novel.  The point of view alternates between Nick and Amy Dunne, who recount events in a manner which protect their self-interests.  As a result, both narrators are unreliable and increasingly unlikeable.  When Amy disappears, Nick is barely fazed. He withholds details regarding his alibi for the morning of Amy’s disappearance from secondary characters as well as from the reader. 

Amy is just as murky in her diary entries.  seems like a caricature of a woman when she writes in her diary.  Her stories from when she and Nick met in NYC  read like a film script. I didn’t know who to believe or when to take either character seriously (which was great, because I don’t want predictable characters in a thriller or mystery novel).  This unreliability caused me to start thinking about how secondary characters would tell their version of the “Nick and Amy” story.  For example, how did Amy’s parents interact with her on a daily basis?  Did they actually expect Amy to use the Amazing Amy series as a literal roadmap to success, or were they simply inspired to write after her mother was finally able to deliver their only daughter?

 

I also enjoyed how Flynn confronts gender stereotypes in this book while keeping the characters realistically problematic.  For example, Amy brings forth an interesting debate on gender expectations by expressing the pressures of being “Cool Girl.”  She explains, “I waited patiently— years— for the pendulum to swing the other way, for men to start reading Jane Austen, learn how to knit, pretend to love cosmos, organize scrapbook parties, and make out with each other while we leer. And then we’d say, Yeah, he’s a Cool Guy” (301).  The idea that women should be constantly agreeable while interacting with men is still prominent.  This is why we are still referred to as “bossy” instead of “authoritative” when we establish ourselves in positions of power.  We are expected to adapt to men’s tastes and to “calm down.” To exploit our sexuality. To tolerate inappropriate jokes when we know they’re offensive and unfunny.  

 

However, women are also taught to look for an unrealistic profile in men, and Amy exhibits this phenomenon.  Though she admits to struggling with gender expectations, she shames Nick for struggling with his identity:  “You are a man,” I say. “You are an average, lazy, boring, cowardly, woman-fearing man…The only time in your life you’ve ever liked yourself was pretending to be someone I might like” (529).  This moment is interesting, as she is chastising Nick for being passive, but also for performing according to her expectations.  Again, I must stress how this novel will make you think about character likeability and complexity.  

 

The only complaint I have about this novel is the very end because the story is uncharacteristically resolved in comparison to Flynn’s other books.  I can’t elaborate too much without including spoilers, but I do feel there would be more complications to the resolution when all character perspectives are considered.  This aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I give Flynn a 5-star rating and am eager to see her on the best-seller list again soon!

*CLICK HERE* for a free sample or to purchase Gone Girl on Amazon.com

Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl: A Novel. Crown, 2012. Kindle file.

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DEAR READER

DEAR READER:

You’ve been asking me what is this “XYZ”

when you should have learned the alphabet when you were 2

when all you needed to know was that her name was Shannon

and you thought her sparkly purple sandals were pretty.

 

You liked her

and it didn’t matter she was different the other girls you used to like.  

It didn’t matter

because you were not her and she was not you.

 

The year is 2017-

and it’s still possible to be “too much” of yourself.

I’m not talking about arrogance.

It’s time for some honesty,

 

and honestly?

I love women and I love men, too-

especially the gentle ones.

 

I’m sorry you’ve fallen victim.

 

You’ve heard too much about your friend Shannon,

whose legal name was still Shawn

until 22 years of persistent protest

transformed to progress.

 

I’m sorry

you heard she had the shit kicked out of her in 6th period shop class.

I’m sorry

you saw her fuchsia nails resting so out of place on callused fingertips.

 

I’m sorry

that you had to forget that she used to be called he

and that you have been best friends

all this time with you none the wiser.

 

I’m sorry you had to endure all of that.

LONG LIVE

LONG LIVE

When she accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot

she gasped and graciously apologized

 

Perched at the edges of their rotting stools like pigeons

on the window ledges of their abandoned bakeries,

Les Trecoteuse raveled and unraveled their threadbare ropes in silence.

The usual “who’s who” was a waste as each woman could recognize

the cake batter dripping from her mouth to the sticky urine lined streets.

 

The “Austrian Woman” tried to become one of them.

She was hard pressed for acceptance. Still.

Still, after 23 years, she balanced atop her mocking post

where silk buckle shoes drown in the blood of her severed husband.

Splotches of rust and dust ate away at the intricate designs through the eyelets

where laces should have been.

 

A revolutionary stripped his former queen of preciousness.

He tore through whatever represented the wealth of the privileged:

her boot laces spun in gold and her ragged Fontange

A single alouette feather remained

caught between the mousey grey locks

and broken wires that no longer measured two feet high.

 

Luxuriously, the revolutionary threw them over the scaffolding to join

the King’s navy culottes.

Alliance

ALLIANCE

The inherent distaste for “Austrian snakes”

clung to the tongues of each Louis in turn.

In France, it was assumed that a Hapsburg woman

was a mauvais investissement,

an ill-fated hand.

 

Wound by the intentions of female politicians,

a counter-melody was proposed-

composed for Maria Antonia to outperform

the catchy tune of “Austro-phobia,”

a score pregnant with dissonance.

 

She is folded to the floor of Versailles’ foyer,

arms pressed firmly around her ankles.

She rocks a steady rhythm there.

Steady.

as when mother used to hum softly in the evening.

 

This was her debut, her duty

to tumble into a loveless marriage.

She stands-

Maria Antonia.

 

 

Peering around the entrance to la Salle de l’Opera

no orange blossoms meet her virgin eyes.

She stands-

Maria Antonia.

 

Whispers ensue as privileged peasants begin to caress

the strings of borrowed violas and a foreign harp.

Maria recognizes the tune humming against her ribcage.

The words are absent but she hiccups a chuckle at her memory of them:

The pain of love lasts a lifetime

Review: Heaven and Earth, Arturo Riojas

 

Despite being a work of fiction, Heaven and Earth is a noteworthy addition to the global conversation of environmental consciousness and the future of human health.  Arturo Riojas speculates the functionality of a relationship between earthlings and extraterrestrials as a call to action against a dangerous phenomenon which he deems paramount– cadmium poisoning.  He combines narrative with approachable research in order to best inform his readers about this toxic metal which plagues our food and water supply.

Olga Ramos is a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.  She is excited to have been invited to a science and engineering conference, so she may share her latest accomplishments among her colleagues.  When she arrives, she meets up with her good friend, Gavilan, and they begin to reminisce about their college years.  Olga tells Gavilan about her projects and about how, after all these years, her research is driven by cause and effect.

Then out of the blue, they’re approached by an extraterrestrial by the name of Nivla. He is from the planet Treretum and he needs their help.  Before long, we realize Treretumians may be facing extinction.  Treretum has been invaded by muimdac (which happens to be “cadmium” spelled in reverse), a resilient and predatory species which has been feeding on the Treretumians for thousands of years. As a result, Treretumian investigators are scoping out Earth for resources and answers: “We know too little about them to effectively combat them. [They are] invading our bodies, eventually devouring us from the inside and being programmed to take our form” (Riojas, 102).  Unfortunately, they realize humans are failing to progress at the predicted rate, observing the ways in which health and wellness take a backseat in government consciousness.

In fact, they observe societal issues, which when combined, are causing an increase in cadmium poisoning.  In attempts to help improve the current state of affairs, Nivla offers his assistance to Olga and Gavilan (and some newfound friends at the CDC), who are taking matters into their own hands.  They will dedicate their lives to researching cadmium and building a better government which supports healthy living.

Screenshot 2017-09-04 at 7.20.31 PM
“Cadmium is used in many types of solder, including for standard E.M.F. cells, for nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries, and as a barrier to control nuclear fission. It is a component in low-melting alloys, including bearing alloys that have low coefficients of friction and great resistance to fatigue” (Livescience).

Riojas mentions in his prologue that readers may “skip over” the informational text to avoid distraction from the narrative, but I find the “Cadmium Facts” that close each chapter a great addition to the book.  I would actually argue that skipping over the fact sheets takes away from the overall reading experience because the sections work together to allow for congruency and a better understanding.  For example, notice how the following information is presented in “Cadmium Facts:”  

“Cadmium does not accumulate particularly in the brain. However, because cadmium competes with zinc, the bodies of individuals suffering from cadmium poisoning are typically deficient in zinc.  And since the brain is one of the largest reservoirs of zinc in the body, the brain is often robbed of zinc so that other bodily requirements are satisfied, as is commonly found in Alzheimer’s patients” (23-24).  

Here is that same information again in the narrative:  

“…they literally took me into their family. After my graduation, it was very hard for me hearing repeatedly about [their] health problems.  They deserve better than what fate dished out—diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and countless premature deaths” (36).

I typically have issues retaining scientific facts. However, writing strictly factual section and then following up that section with a narrative which inspires emotion is a great way to engage an audience.  When they reach “Points of Contact in the Federal Government” (335) at the end of the epilogue, they will be moved to take action.

Riojas’ decision to write this novel as science fiction was clever for a couple different reasons.  Riojas is able to attract an audience that would otherwise miss out on important research.  (I probably would not have chosen to review this book if he had written, for example, a textbook or collection of scientific reports). Furthermore, the concept of humans working alongside aliens for the sake of their survival works perfectly for this book.  While a working relationship such as this still seems near impossible, we are getting closer to finding intelligent life on other planets every day.  This works well with Riojas’ assertion that cadmium poisoning exists in large numbers, despite the lack of attention it receives from the federal government.

Element Cd

I strongly feel Heaven and Earth is an important read for those who are looking to make improvements for their own health, as well as for the health of their environment.  Therefore, I have some suggestions for improvement, most of which are with regards to fluency and grammar.

There are several instances where Olga and Gavilan converse with each other in Spanish.  Riojas writes full phrases in Spanish, and then immediately translates the text into English in brackets: “‘Pues, nacido en México pero educado aquí en los Estados Unidos. ¿Y usted?’ [Well, born in Mexico but educated here in the United States. And you?]” (13).  The bracketed translation is meant to create a better understanding for those who do not speak Spanish and I think this method would work if there were only a few places where Spanish phrases are used.  However, some chapters contain pages full of Spanish with English translation and that continuous use of brackets is distracting.  I think using footnotes or even leaving out some translations would actually increase reader coherence.

For example, Riojas writes Olga’s thought about Pasadena: “Dios mio [My God], doesn’t this city ever sleep?” (12).  I didn’t need the translation in this sentence because the Spanish phrase is quite common and easily understood.  Later in the text, Gavilan uses the word “cojones” when referring to the boldness required to fight government corruption (214).  English-speakers and Spanish speakers alike employ that word in their vernacular.

The final suggestions for the improvement of Heaven and Earth are strictly grammatical. The majority of this text edited quite well. However, there were a few areas which contained grammatical errors.  As shown in the previous paragraph, phrases are italicized to represent character thoughts.  This is one of the two correct ways to punctuate thoughts. (The other way is to use quotation marks and to state the text inside them is a character’s thought.)  However, there are also a few instances where the italics seem like they’ve been thrown into the text randomly. Here a few examples:

“He began petting Cooper a little more enthusiastically” (38).

“…the product with the highest cadmium concentration is the wheat gluten, making flour tortillas even more toxic—a cadmium double whammy” (41).

“Olga felt the pull of his dark eyes” (113).  

In the cases above, italics are causing a distraction.  They are not indicating a character’s thought or adding to the meaning of the phrase as a whole.  

Screenshot 2017-09-05 at 12.28.19 PM

Notice this description of Olga and Gavilan’s drive to New Mexico uses “a” when an article is not required: “It was a pleasantly different from the warm, sultry evenings and early mornings for which Houston, the city noted for being an outdoor sauna, is famous” (109). Other fixes would be to write: “It was a pleasant difference” or, more simply, “It was different.” There are similar structural errors on pages 121, 258 and 282, where phrasing and/or punctuation should be reconsidered.

I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars.  There are some grammatical errors in the text, but the piece as a whole is great.  Riojas creates a sense of transparency with readers. He grasps the attention of fiction lovers health enthusiasts, and environmentalists in a single publication.  Thanks to Riojas, I feel like an expert cadmium poisoning and am ready to share my knowledge with others.

*CLICK HERE* for a free sample or to purchase Heaven and Earth on Amazon.com

The Future is Fruitless: How The Handmaid’s Tale Predicts a Frightening Possibility

I am left speechless by the normalcy of it all.

“We want wisdom. We want hope. We want to be good. Therefore we sometimes tell ourselves warning stories that deal with the darker side of some of our other wants.”

Margaret Atwood, Interview with The Guardian, 2005

The Handmaid's tale
Promotional Poster for HULU’s The Handmaids Tale, featuring Elisabeth Moss.

In 1986, the author, literary critic and environmental activist, Margaret Atwood introduced a work of speculative fiction which has had a lasting effect on the public.  Although written over 30 years ago, The Handmaid’s Tale maintains relevancy in a number of ways.  The most obvious, of course, is the recent television adaptation by HULU.  Before you binge-watch the entirety of season 1, I highly recommend picking up Atwood’s original piece. I have now read the novel twice through and I’m glad to have done so. This story is an important one to tell.

Let’s start with a little overview.  This story takes place sometime in America’s future; and although specific dates are not disclosed by Atwood or her characters, the reader can assume the United States has been grappling with a number of issues which stem mostly from environmental decline and social discontent.  In attempts to take control of the situation, the country slowly transitions into a totalitarian state.  Renamed “The Republic of Gilead,” the state keeps order according to unyielding religious law.  The people who were once able to take pride in freedom and individuality, have now been categorized according to functionality.  We see a socioeconomic hierarchy forming reminiscent of medieval Europe.  Even the Constitution has been suspended.   

“The chances [of delivering a healthy baby] are one in four…The air got too full, once, f chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxic molecules, all of that takes years to clean up…sure death to shore birds and unborn babies” (Atwood, 112).

The depreciation of environmental and physical health has led to outbreaks of cancer and syphilis, to name a few health issues. However, the most troublesome problem Gilead faces is their inability to keep up its population.  Procreation has become nearly impossible, with case after case of infertility in women.  This point brings me to our narrator and the main character, “Offred.”  She is a Handmaid: a child bearer.  “Handmaid” is a confusing space to occupy in Gilead’s hierarchy. One one hand, the Handmaid is a valued member of society. They are trained and protected. On the other hand, however, this training states Handmaids have but one purpose in society: bear children for women who cannot do so themselves.

The Handmaid's Tale
Various Editions of The Handmaid’s Tale

Reflecting on the effects of this message, Offred comments, “We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices” (136).  I am struck by the starkness of this particular line.  Just like that, Offred is plainly saying “I am an object and I know it.” And at this point in the text, she is not exclaiming or complaining about this fact.  She is simply stating something she knows to be true.  There are many other times throughout the book when either Offred, her friend Moira, or even one of the Aunts who train the women comments on their condition in this way. I am left speechless by the perceived normalcy of it all.

I didn’t see too much dialogue from male characters, but when I did, I almost wish I hadn’t.  Offred’s Commander (the man with whom she has been paired to become pregnant) says the following of women in Gilead: “We have quite a collection… That one was a lawyer, that one was in business, an executive position” but will also state that women “can’t add”  (237, 186). He sees no contradiction in these two statements at all.

I start to think about the blatant objectification of women and the focus on environmental in this book and am convinced that every woman needs to read this book.  As fictional as this novel may be, I stress the word “speculative,” as the genre states. We need to remember these kinds of stories are possible and that we do have the means of writing our own future.  

*CLICK HERE* for a free sample or to purchase The Handmaid’s Tale on Amazon.com

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