January 2015 Media Round-up (Books Pt. 2)

jan2015books

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

Review(ish):

  • Okay, so I was sort of hoping to be unimpressed by Gone Girl so that I could be a pretentious asshole about how “overrated” it is. But I think it is actually correctly rated, because man, Gone Girl is fucking awesome. I had already seen the movie, and while I’m not sure how the book could have been adapted better without just having voice-overs the whole time, the movie does lack a lot of the depth of the book in terms of characterization and the exploration of the effects of internalized misogyny1. And that may be part of the reason why people misconstrued the movie as misogynist, although the more obvious reason is that male antiheroes are just allowed to be fucked up individuals while female characters are read as emblematic of all women. I guess the best analogy I have is Breaking Bad: Walter White does a lot of shitty things and Breaking Bad does use him to comment on the concept of American masculinity, but we would never assume that Walter White is supposed to be representative of all men; Walter White is a very flawed individual whose flaws are in many ways shaped by his gender, but we understand that Walter White is a specific individual and not just a symbol of manhood. Similarly, even though Flynn uses her to comment on gender roles, Amy Dunne is a very specifically flawed individual. But I think the misguided criticism stems from this level of understanding feminism enough to get that the two-dimensional female characters like the nagging sitcom wife characters are offensive, but not enough to get that the problem with those characters is not their “unlikability” but the fact that they’re based on tired stereotypes and generally aren’t as developed as their male counterparts. Feminists don’t want every fictional female character to be likable (although feminists, like women, are not some monolith and I don’t presume to speak for all of them); we want female characters to be people and some people are super shitty, regardless of gender.
  • The Cool Girl speech was a thing of beauty, although that also trickled through a shit-ton of thinkpieces and is now being widely misused; we will probably have to write our own thinkpiece on that later. Overall, though, such a fun read; super compelling, quite a few moments of personal resonance, and Amy Dunne is a much better literary counterpart than fucking Amy March.

Select quote (that is not from the Cool Girl speech):

My mother looks like she’s just gotten a hair cut. I wonder if I should be annoyed that she paused in the middle of my disappearance for personal grooming. When someone dies and the relatives carry on, you always hear them say so-and-so would have wanted it that way. I don’t want it that way.


The Foreign Student, Susan Choi

Review(ish):

  • Nothing too deep2 to say here; I enjoyed this because the plot was interesting, but the writing was a little messy–the narrative switches between characters and time periods, sometimes just within paragraphs, and it’s not always clear whose perspective we’re currently looking through and when. I don’t remember noticing any similar narrative issues in Person of Interest or My Education, so this may also just be a first novel thing. The book takes place in the ’50s and alternates between the experiences a 25-year-old Korean dude who comes to study at Sewanee after some traumatic experiences in the war (which are slowly revealed throughout) and a 28-year-old Southern white woman who’s also isolated because of a sort of cliched scandalous sexual history. Obviously, romance ensues, and it’s very sweet.

Select quote:

His easy comradeship with Kim was a miracle to him, even more so because Kim never seemed to sense the strangeness of their situation, or the tremendous significance with which Chang endowed it. Kim was presumptuous in the best of ways; a deep familiarity grew up between them because Kim presumed it already existed.


1. Which is just so well done, but the movie misses out on a lot of it by not really talking about Nick and Go’s father and how they’ve both been shaped by his sexism. Go comes across as maybe the most likable character because she’s chill and snarky and pretty much what we would call cool; but the thing is, she is also one of those women who says that “women are crazy” and doesn’t “consider herself part of the general category of women,” and that’s kind of fucked up and probably intentional to force the readers to confront the whole Cool Girl thing. ^

2. Because there is probably nothing that I can say about the Korean War that won’t come across as obvious or naive or obnoxious or all three. Just like, right, that was a thing that high school US history classes sort of skimmed over in favor of Vietnam, and it’s hard to reconcile the US involvement in Korea in the 50s and all of that shit with the way that we obliviously consume K-pop and make fun of North Korea at the Golden Globes? But as I said, that is a pretty obvious and naive and possibly obnoxious observation. ^

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