Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. [...] And what's inside it. I think of that too: her mind. Her brain, all those coils, and her thoughts shuttling through those coils like fast, frantic centipedes. Like a child I picture opening her skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

The mood set by the opening paragraphs was ominous enough, although these words were curiously vague. After reading the novel I went back to look at the first pages and realized that this was the best way to begin such an insane story of mystery, manipulation, and love gone awry.

Gone Girl is an unfortunate novel to write about: all the best bits would require me to spoil the twists and turns completely, and those were so much fun to discover while reading! So instead, I'll say this: Gone Girl is a dark novel. You might be startled at how violently you want to shake the main characters. It's a story designed to frustrate readers, but in a good way. I swear!

Gone Girl is told from two alternating view points: Nick's story begins on the day Amy disappears; Amy's story unfolds through journal entries, starting seven years earlier when the two met for the first time. Just when you think you have both of them sussed out, the story grabs you by your head, twisting it until your neck cracks. And not just once! It's a nauseating reading experience, and I loved it. Once, I felt smug for having figured out a detail well before I thought anyone should have, but I turned out to be wrong. Pretty humbling, that. Later, turns out I was actually right! Kind of right, anyway. At least in the ballpark.

Gone Girl reminded me of Jodi Picoult's The Pact: A Love Story: both have two narrations within the main story, filling in gaps and misleading the reader who does not know whom to believe anymore. Both novels are critical of modern humans learning what real love is supposed to be like from romantic movies or stories, to the detriment of their own relationships. Gone Girl goes further to examine the terrors when people cannot uphold the Fun Pixie Girl and Fun Romantic Hero Man roles they have adopted to attract one another.

I'm 27th in line for the hold of Flynn's other books at the library. It was nearly impossible not to just push a couple of buttons on my Kindle to buy and download them as soon as I put Gone Girl down at bed time so that I could continue to dwell in Flynn's wonderfully dark worlds. I'm not quite there yet with immediate book gratification, so I wait.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Coreyography: A Memoir by Corey Feldman

Biographies are fascinating, and the ones I've read can be divided into two pretty rough camps: the ones that are written either by a professional writer (Tina Fey's excellent Bossypants comes to mind) or with a professional writer's help, and the ones where nobody apparently dared to suggest edits or hire a good ghost writer and let the personality just ramble on.

The latter cases are especially sad when there is an important story to tell. Bob Santos's Hum Bows, Not Hot Dogs is about this superman of a community organizer's amazing struggles and achievements in Seattle's International District, but it has so many inappropriately placed dad jokes and jumping from one thing to another that the actual fascinating story within disappears in the noise. It's a tiny book but it took me forever to read, because I kept on losing the plot.

Coreyography had a similar feel to it. I mean, we start off with a pun when the book itself is frigging bleak, right?

Feldman set out to write this book to expose the child abuse many child stars are subjected to in Hollywood. The abuse was most likely the main culprit of his good friend Corey Haim's spiraling into drugs and eventual early death. That's a brave story to come forward with. Not only that, Feldman is at the same time out to clear Michael Jackson's name--the man who was publicly accused of child molestation while the Hollywood big shots working with children have been getting away with it. This is a big deal.

There's just something about the way the book is structured and written that I kept on being distracted by how things were told instead of what I was told. It also felt like there were either two writers hired to help out with this book, or that a copy editor didn't make or wasn't allowed to make other changes beyond typos and grammar and let the book bounce from style to style (although the number of "he gave Ron and I a call..." structures made me wonder if a copy editor was involved at all).

For a few chapters, Feldman's voice waxes super poetic in present tense about his childhood and early acting years, and I think, This sounds so fake for speaking from a kid's perspective. This is how Chapter 1 begins:

I am three years old, sitting at the small round breakfast table in our tiny kitchen, eyeing a half-open box of cereal. There's a toy surprise buried somewhere inside, and I'm itching for it. I bounce my feet impatiently atop the wooden rung of my chair, feel a cold dribble of milk slip across my lip and down my chin. As consumed as I am by that prize, however, I sense that there is something different, something even more exciting, about today. It's still early morning in the San Fernando Valley--the sun is streaming through the little stained glass window above the door frame, casting a rainbow of shadows across the linoleum floor of the foyer--but the whole house is already buzzing with energy.

In short, this is describing a kid drooling at the breakfast table and picking up on the excited energy in the household, but it's made ridiculously poetic.

In similar purple prose bits he refers to his friend Corey Haim as "Corey." Then suddenly something changes, and the style becomes not only more straight-forward and punchy, but Feldman begins to refer to his friend exclusively as "Haim"--but only for one chapter. I'd understand the distancing if that was sought, but this is at a point where they had just reunited after years of not seeing each other. If anything, this would be the time for using the first name.

It's as if the majority of the book was inspired by Cormac McCarthy, trying to find machismo poetry in a kid reaching out for a bowl of cereal or a drug-addled street fight, and the latter chapters are where we actually hear a genuine voice and its urgency in telling this important story. Either would have been fine for consistency, really.

And now I feel crappy about being so critical: it's someone pouring his heart out onto paper, for crying out loud, talking about being molested, consumed in a world of drugs. I'm going back to my Wodehouse to be cheered up again and I'll leave biographies and memoirs alone because they're so painful to read... at least for a while. (But I did realize I've never read Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher, which is almost unforgivable considering the Star Wars nerdery I've exposed myself to since the age of nine).

Surprisingly, this celebrity memoir turned out to be more thought-provoking than I imagined, but perhaps not in the way the author himself intended.