I don’t read a lot of fiction. Fiction probably makes up about a tenth of what I read in a year. It isn’t easy for me to slip into someone else’s world anymore because I’ve made such strong connections with others that anything less than those frustrates me. (That’s a main reason I get frustrated with my own writing.) I don’t like crime drama, and I like true crime even less*, so I’m slow to pick up anything labeled Mystery.
Girl Gone, by Gillian Flynn, kept popping up on my Facebook feed, my Twitter feed, and my Goodreads notifications, and people whose opinions I respected were saying, “I am reading Girl Gone–really good!” I had just finished reading Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright, and I needed a palate cleanser from the hard fact that it was only a couple of dollar signs between me and Paul Haggis. I mean, had Jesse Duplantis asked for money, and the COS told me they were free, I might have joined the Sea Org instead of the Superkids. So, Girl Gone seemed just the thing to soothe my ruffled thetans.
A few pages in and I was hooked. Flynn is great writer. She is descriptive in that way that you find yourself squinting because the sunlight she’s written about is so bright. The tone, the pace, the voices were pitch perfect, and I could not put the book down. I literally held it in one hand and brushed my teeth with the other. It was that good. I ended up with toothpaste close to my ear, and on my shirt, but I didn’t care. I haven’t wanted to read a book so badly in years.
Then, halfway in, the plot twisted in a way that left me feeling betrayed. I told B that it was as if I had started reading a mystery novel, and then realized I was reading sci-fi. The book didn’t turn sci-fi, but the plot twist turned everything upside down and completely reset the novel, so that it was like the Bizarro version of itself. This twist occurred while I was at lunch, and I sat there with my Jersey Mike’s Club Sub halfway to my mouth, just staring. How had this happened? bite Did I miss something? bite I flipped back a few pages and reread, just to be sure. bite No. That actually happened. bite.
I chewed my way past the betrayal and decided that even though this was not the book I thought it was, it was still a good book. That behind me, I read the next quarter of it with intrigue, if not as much enthusiasm. It was still well written. It was still well-paced. The tone and the voices, though now utterly different, were still good.
The story devolved, though. I reached the denouement puzzled and disappointed. The sharpness of the first half of the book had muddled into something else. The caffeinated clarity faded into a sloppy drunkenness, and by the time I reached the end, I was simply sad.
I can’t say I hated the end of the book. The resolution was a plausible outcome, given what the characters had become, but it wasn’t one I could enjoy at all. It was just enh. For as simply brilliant as the first half had been, the ending was hard to take. Still well written. Still believable. But it was putting a Ken doll’s head on a Barbie doll’s body and asking me to admire the hairdo.
I’m going to give the book 4 out of 5 stars just because the first half is that strong, and because in retrospect Flynn was very clever with little details that seemed like nothing at the time. It felt so good to have a Book Crush again. A book that drew me in so fast that I dreamed about it, brushed my teeth reading it, and snuck it around with me all during the day to keep reading it. Yes, it broke my heart, but man it was worth the ride!
*I was in a B Dalton bookstore, my Freshman year in college and I was looking at the True Crime section. My grandmother loved true crime, so I had read a lot of hers out of sheer boredom and had come to enjoy the thrill of them. No matter that the subject just made my paranoia worse, and always gave me nightmares, I was standing there trying to suss out whether I wanted a book on one serial killer, or a book about what makes a serial killer tick. Something kicked into gear in my brain and I thought, “Why would I want to know what makes a serial killer tick? Do I really want to identify with that? Knowing what a killer thinks doesn’t protect you from the thinking. Same way knowing how many different kinds of sharks there are doesn’t keep one from snatching you off your surf board.”
Something else kicked into gear and I suddenly wondered how the families of the victims felt? If these parents walked into the bookstore, were they faced by the smiling mugshot of the man who had murdered their daughter? I thought about my mom and dad, and what that would do to them. I felt a little ashamed for having been titillated by the genre, and the longer I stood there, the more “a little” turned into “a lot.” So, I walked out of that section and never looked back.