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Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Now that anyone can have a blog and a public identity and share their message with the world, what would yours be?  I gravitate towards people who send a message of love and compassion.  Gillian Flynn, in Gone Girl, does just the opposite.  Gone Girl is filled with foul language, hatred, fear, shallow characters, and derogatory material towards both women and men.  While all of these elements can be used to great effect in literature, skilled writers generally use them as a counterpoint to some other message, or to accurately portray a character or time period.  In the case of Gone Girl, these elements are the message.  There are no likable characters in this book.  There is no redemption.

Gone Girl is the story of Amy and Nick Dunne.  When Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, all evidence points to Nick as the murderer. Through multiple plot twists and shifts in narrative point of view Flynn keeps the reader guessing what happened.  As tempted as I was to give up on this book, I was also intrigued by Flynn’s manipulation of the plot.  I was curious to see if the book (and characters) could redeem themselves in the end.  I needn’t have bothered, and neither should you.  The ending was worse than all the rest of the book put together.

If you are still on the fence about reading Gone Girl, then know that Ms. Flynn spent much of her writing career as a journalist for Entertainment Weekly.  This may explain why the characters act like spoiled rich people who are completely out of touch with what it is that makes us human. Don’t waste your time on Gone Girl – there are thousands of excellent books out there that will teach you something about the real world, books that will test the limits of your compassion and stretch your brain with new ideas.

Now that I’ve broken all six of John Updike’s Rules for Reviewing Books, I’m stepping off my soap box.  It won’t happen again.  Carry on.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in Fiction, Uncategorized

 

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St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell

Karen Russell’s first book, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, is a collection of ten short stories published in 2006.  I read it over a six week period, about as long as I have ever spent on a book and still gone on to finish it.  I’m pretty sure it took me so long because these stories are so rich.  Reading one of Karen Russell’s stories is a bit like swallowing a spoonful of orange juice concentrate: they are juicy, but intense. While wildly different from each other (as different as different can get, in fact), it is immediately evident that they all come from the same mind, the same imagination.  What ties them together, ironically, is the very thing that makes them all so different from each other.  While all of the classic elements of good story telling are present in each story (plot, character, conflict, etc), each one has something else, as well – a skewed premise that sets it in a world that tilts at a slightly different rotational axis than our own.  One that is very nearly possible, but not probable.

Karen Russell’s stories are set in our familiar landscape (like the swamps of the Everglades) and even in our own common histories (like the settling of West by the pioneers), except, generally, for one thing.  That one thing is different in every story.  She may add a father figure that is a Minotaur (“Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration”) or take a class of students on a field trip to a dilapidated amusement park of giant conch shells (“The City of Shells”) or set her story in a retirement community that is entirely made up of seniors confined to individual houseboats bobbing in the harbor (“Out to Sea”). My favorite is the title story:  “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves”.   The story imagines what happens when a group of girls that have been raised by their werewolf parents in the wild are given over to a group of nuns that specialize in rehabilitating just these types of girls into human society.  The story is about the big themes of repression, socialization, and religion but it deals with it on the level of detail, character, and scene.  Russell manages to harness the power of myth and sit it down at the same table as the mundane and force them to have a meal together.

If you give a talented child a box of crayons and one highlighter marker and ask him to draw you a picture of a house, you’d probably be able to recognize the house, but it would likely be visually jarring and disjointed just by virtue of the dissimilar intensities of color.  That’s how it is with each of these stories.  There is generally one element that is not from the color palette of reality as we know it.  Karen Russell achieves unexpected results (and fantastic literature) by allowing the yellow highlighter of her imagination such sway in her writing.  Her stories are wild, jubilant, energetic, preposterous, honest, brightly hot, and dead on.  If you read them, take the time to savor each one.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell (Knopf, 2006)

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Fiction, Uncategorized

 

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The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

My Christmas wish list had one thing on it this year: a copy of Liz Gilbert’s The Signature of all Things (Penguin Group, 2013). Thankfully, I got it. Then it sat on my shelf for four months. FOUR MONTHS! Ostensibly, it was because I was in the middle of a few other books. Then I found other books to read, and then others. Eventually, I realized I was avoiding reading it. I knew why. Just before Christmas, I (unintentionally) read one negative review of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book. The reviewer panned it, their biggest complaint being that it was really about masturbatory sex.

Well. Combine that with the fact that it was about moss, science, and history (I mean, come on, moss?), and it was almost enough for me to skip it. But I am a Liz Gilbert FAN (the capital letter kind), so I did read it. And loved it. Just exactly as much as I hoped I would.

I love Liz mostly because Eat Pray Love and Committed, as well as every essay, TED Talk, Facebook post and interview she has put out there are all consistent with who she is: a woman on a mission to understand how things work, and make her findings understandable to everyone else through her glorious authorial voice. I loved The Signature of all Things because it does this in a most ambitious way. It is a brave thing, given what many of her peers are writing about (time travel, dystopian futures, and manipulative modern characters like those that inhabit Gillian Flynn’s horrible book Gone Girl), that Gilbert would choose to write a quiet masterpiece about an ugly spinster who lived in the 1800’s and studied the evolutionary habits of mosses as her life work. What could be less sexy? What could be less compelling?

And yet, what could be more powerful?

By imagining a woman of 200 years ago, Gilbert strips her of the labels we paste on women today, and uncovers the timeless issues that face all women. The Signature of All Things is the story of Alma Whittacker, born in 1800 to a rich American botanist. Instead of being petite, beautiful, and smart (the current trend in female protagonists: Hello, Katniss!), Alma is large, unlovely, and smart. Yes, Alma explores her own sexuality, and it is a powerful part of her story, but The Signature of all Things is really about Alma’s quest to assimilate the sum of her experiences, which are profound, into an understandable theory of life. Not everyone, I understand, spends a good part of everyday pondering the very small (at times) or very large (at times) divide between science and spirituality, but I do, and Alma Whittacker certainly does and, thankfully, Liz Gilbert does.

What an ocean of story Gilbert has created for reader’s to immerse themselves in! I surfaced once in a while to marvel at the amount of research (and envy the amount of travel) that went into the book, and then ponder the size of the blender that mixed it in so seamlessly with the story. If you are on the fence about reading this book, just read it. If you love Liz Gilbert, you will likely love it. If you detest Liz Gilbert (maybe Eat Pray Love was a bit too whiney for you?) my guess is you will still find yourself enjoying this book.

Go, Liz!

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2014 in Fiction, Uncategorized

 

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