That's right, I promise. For that one random person stopping by this blog who hasn't yet either read the book or seen the movie, but still has some vague intention of doing one or both, a condition I was in myself till just yesterday, I am writing a review that will not mention anything about the elaborate plot nor offer either praise or criticism of it. How's that, you ask? Simple. I'm going to focus on a couple of things I liked about the story that have nothing to do with it being a thriller.
I am very late getting to this book. A friend and former coworker who had moved on to a position at Crown Publishing sent word back to me while I was still working in the bookstore, asking me if I'd like her to send me a galley of this. I rather ungraciously said, "No thanks." Although my friend had pegged me as a mystery reader, she didn't know that I tend to avoid novels set in the abducted girl sub-genre, rapists, serial killers and the like not really being my thing. Of course at a certain point I realized that she had offered me an early look at a very big book, and I felt a bit embarrassed, but still not in a huge hurry to read it.
It's only with the new movie coming out that I felt that the story's twists and turns would be revealed to me sooner rather than later and decided it was now or never. It turned out that I had a nice window for it, so I began it. Such was my paranoia about things being divulged before I had reached them, I not only didn't tell any of my friends that I was reading the book, but I was actually slightly reluctant to take it to the Laundromat, for fear that some random stranger would see the title and start blurting things out.
None of that happened. I have reached the end and its secrets are safe with me. What I wanted to talk about was the fact that my concept of the book was slightly wrong. I would say that far from being sensationalistic, it is really more of a literary novel disguised as a thriller. Pretty well, disguised, yes, but still.
The basic setup of the book (which you will find in the first few pages) is that a youngish husband and wife, writers, living the sort of New York lifestyle that the rest of the world both envies and mocks, find that the carpet has been pulled out from under them and they can no longer sustain themselves in their chosen profession. The husband's hometown in Missouri beckons at a convenient time, and so they move there, willy-nilly, where he uses his wife's savings to set up a bar. Called "The Bar". This has all happened before the story even starts, so don't worry.
Yes, we thought we were being clever New Yorkers--that the name was a joke that no one else would get, not get like we did. Not meta-get. We pictured the locals scrunching their noses: Why'd you name it The Bar? But our first customer, a gray-haired woman in bifocals and a pink jogging suit, said, "I like the name. Like in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Audrey Hepburn's cat was named Cat."
We felt much less superior after that , which was a good thing.
The novel is very much set up along these lines, where New York and Missouri spar with each other, sometimes within the characters themselves. It makes you remember that a lot of the 'in the know' New Yorkers are originally from somewhere else themselves.
So I was very much taken with the novel from the start, realizing that a story that stops to take time to lament the passing of a journalistic era was not going to be just any 'gone girl' novel. But I think where it really grabbed me was with a throwaway line:
[My wife] had made a grim figure on the Fiji beach during our two-week honeymoon, battling her way through a million mystical pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, casting pissy glances at me as I devoured thriller after thriller.
Forget marriage, which in many ways what this book is about. (Marriage, that is, not forgetting marriage, though it might be a little about that too.) I can remember, did remember on reading this line, my aunt's account of laughing uproariously through a book I'd given her for her trip to France, the wonderful Handling Sin, by Michael Malone, which upset her travel companion, who was trying to read something serious in French, no end.
The book is a thriller, and not a sociological study, nor is it a lament for a past era. But it is set in time, in a particular moment and that moment is very well described here:
I sat in the doorstep of a vacant storefront. It occurred to me that I had brought Amy to the end of everything. We were literally experiencing the end of a way of life, a phrase I'd applied only to New Guinea tribesmen and Appalachian glassblowers. The recession had ended the mall. Computers had ended the Blue Book plant. Carthage had gone bust; it's sister city Hannibal was losing ground to brighter, louder, cartoonier tourist spots. My beloved Mississippi River was being eaten in reverse by Asian carp flip-flopping their way up toward Michigan...It was the end of my career, the end of hers, the end of my father, the end of my mom. The end of our marriage. The end of Amy.
Gone, girl. Gone.