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Friday, April 28, 2017

Gillian Flynn and Nasty Women Characters

Yesterday, I listed some books about unlikeable women.  Gillian Flynn seems to excel at portraying such female characters since they appear in all three of her novels.

Her first book, Sharp Objects, features Adora, a manipulator extraordinare.   Here’s my review of that book:
2 Stars
Camille Preaker, a reporter for a Chicago newspaper, is sent to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to write about the disappearance of two pre-teen girls. While on assignment, she stays with Adora, her mother ; Alan, her step-father; and Amma, her half-sister.

To call Camille’s family dysfunctional would be an understatement. The family members are totally twisted. Adora is a manipulator extraordinaire who showed Camille no affection while showering her two other daughters with love. She even tells Camille, “’I think I finally realized why I don’t love you’” (148). This treatment has scarred Camille both emotionally and mentally; she self-mutilates, drinks excessively, and seeks love and comfort inappropriately. Alan is cold and distant and speaks to his step-daughter only to accuse her of tormenting Adora (163 – 165). Amma is the leader of a gang of vicious and promiscuous girls; she has a “violent streak . . . a penchant for doing and seeing nasty things” (101),

In fact no one in Wind Gap is well-adjusted, especially the women. All are weak, hapless victims, or back-stabbing desperate housewives, or self-centered and abusive teenagers. Even the protagonist is not likeable. Her night of drinking and drug use with a 13-year-old and her sexual dalliance with an 18-year-old hardly make her sympathetic. She’s doesn’t want to be a victim so she starts victimizing others?

If I lived in a small town in Missouri I would be offended by the portrayal of residents. Having grown up in one, I know what life in a small town is like. Certainly there are not the cultural opportunities that a city has to offer, and everyone does know virtually everything about everyone, but not “everyone drinks” (82) and not everyone is a country bumpkin. According to Camille, anyone who hasn’t left is complacent, “not strong enough or smart enough to leave” (198). Perhaps we are to believe that Camille’s views of the townspeople are tainted by her difficult childhood in Wind Gap, but her opinions are reiterated by the other out-of-towner, the police detective from Kansas City.

There is not a great deal of suspense concerning the identity of the person responsible for the deaths of the two young girls. Very early in the novel, the reader can narrow down the perpetrator to one of two people. The narrative structure leaves little doubt where the guilty party will be found; the use of first person point of view also diminishes any real sense of danger for the narrator. A character’s name and the reference to a mysterious illness are very obvious clues to another secret; even Camille admits, “It had to be made that obvious to me before I finally understood . . . I wanted to scream in shame” (194). And so she should!

Stephen King called this novel “a relentlessly creepy family saga” and that it is. It is not, however, a very suspenseful thriller, and characterization is weak since most of the characters are flat or stereotypes. In Flynn’s defense, this is a first novel, and her writing skill has definitely improved since.

I’ve already posted my review of Flynn’s second novel, Dark Places, which features Libby, a lazy, angry, and manipulative and an obsessive thief – clearly a damaged person.  See my review at

Of course, Glynn is best known for Gone Girl, her third novel which includes selfish and immature Amy.  Here’s my review of that novel:
4 Stars
This is a very difficult book to review without revealing spoilers. What can safely be said is that Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years when Amy goes missing. There is every indication of foul play, and Nick is soon tagged as the guilty husband.

The book is narrated from alternating points of view. In the first part, comprising half of the book, Nick narrates events as they occur in present-time, beginning with their fifth anniversary, and Amy’s point of view is presented via her diary which begins with their first meeting. (There are slight changes in Parts 2 and 3, but to explain would give too much away.)

The two tell very different stories; very soon the reader begins to question who is telling the truth. For example, discussing their first wedding anniversary, Nick says, “Amy presented me with a set of posh stationery, my initials embossed at the top, the paper so creamy I expected my fingers to come away moist. . . . Neither of us liked our presents” (20). Amy’s version is the opposite; she writes about giving him “the monogrammed stationery he’s been wanting from Crane & Co. with the clean sans-serif font sent in hunter green, on the thick creamy stock that will hold lush ink” (41). Are they just a couple who do not know each other very well or are they being selective in their retelling? Nick admits to being “a big fan of the lie of omission” (133) and even says, “It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting” (37). Amy, on the other hand, is just too good to be true; she refuses “to turn into some pert-mouthed, strident angry girl” (65) even when Nick goes drinking with coworkers on their third anniversary. She tells Nick, “’My money is your money’” (68) but writes, “Those jobless men will proclaim Nick a great guy as he buys their drinks on a credit card linked to my bank account” (66). Obviously neither is a reliable narrator. As a consequence, the reader is manipulated into choosing sides and then constantly reconsidering. At times sympathy might rest with Nick but then allegiance will shift to Amy.

Neither character is likeable. Both are selfish and immature, and this may cause problems for readers who require a likeable character. I quite enjoyed how the characters are gradually stripped of all their pretenses as we get to the truth. Of course there are a lot of twists and turns along the way to the truth, but I love roller coaster rides.

I have two problems with the book. One is the portrayal of the police investigating the case. In many ways they are stereotypes of close-minded, bumbling police officers. At one point, Nick’s lawyer says, “’The bigger the lie, the more they believe it’” (390). My other problem is the third part, the last 50 pages. I found it contrived and so unsatisfying, although I’ll admit that perhaps it’s the only possible ending.

Anyone who loves a psychological thriller with fully developed characters, and a character-driven, intricate, unpredictable, suspenseful plot should definitely give this book a try.