Mary Gaitskill Is Not a Fan of Gone Girl

Over at Bookforum, Mary Gaitskill goes contrarian on one of last year’s biggest bestsellers:

The sick and dark of Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, is less in the plot (which is a masterpiece of cuckoo-clockwork), more in the book’s vision. […] Amy and Nick do not resemble actual people so much as grotesquely smiling masks driven by forces of extreme artifice, and it’s exactly that extreme artificial quality that’s frightening to the point of sickening.

What I mean by “artifice” is social language, styles, and manners, a public way of being that is by necessity coded, fixed, and hard, and which has become even more so through the emergence of the virtual world. In physical life, the hardness and (frequent) deceptiveness of such language is offset by the deep, doggishly honest presence of the body; in the virtual world, such animal presence is either absent or faked. Gone Girl doesn’t compare to other books so much as it evokes flipping through TV shows (including the news) and glimpsing face after chirping face, all with only slight variations on the same manner of speech and “smart,” high-speed delivery common to Facebook, texting, and tweeting; that is to say, the book evokes (impressively, one might argue) a hyperartificial, hive-minded way of relating, combined with what has become a cultural ideal of relentless feminine charm tied to power and control.

To my ear, Gaitskill writes sex and aggression and fierce, surprising gender dynamics better than most any writer working today; because she’s been in Gone Girl territory many times before (if to the end of precarious intimacy rather than chills and thrills), it’s fascinating to see her reject what she seems to identify as Flynn’s implicit approval of her character’s worldview.

Amy — a paragon of self-possession who always has the last word — constantly typecasts others in the most rigid and demeaning way. Here’s how she sums up the young woman Nick turns out to be fucking: “Taking his cock in her mouth, all the way to the root so he feels extra big as she gags. Taking it in her ass, deep. Taking cum shots to the face and tits, then licking it off, yum. Taking, definitely taking. Her type would.” It’s normal, I guess, for a woman to hate her rival. But the hatred and scorn here don’t seem to be about the competition for Nick’s attention; they seem to be about Amy’s disdain for the young woman’s (imagined) receptivity or submissiveness — her lack of control.

The movie adaptation of Gone Girl will be directed by David Fincher and star Rosamund Pike as Amy, Ben Affleck as Nick.