Given the year we’ve just had, there’s a lot of pressure on 2021 to be amazing. We’ve got high expectations for it, and for everything else. We want better. We need better. And so, I thought long and hard about which book I’d recommend this month. Which book can deliver in this heightened state of anticipation? Which book epitomizes the excellence we’re craving?
Is it the memoir of someone who’s triumphed over adversity? A happily-ever-after romance? A comedy? A superhero action adventure?
I don’t think it’s any of these. I think we want our fiction, like our reality, to return to the fundamentals. Superhero stories are lots of fun, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think we’re looking for someone with extraordinary powers to swoop in and save us. What we’re craving is competency; people with expertise who show up to work and do a good job.
There is a meme going around that 2020 was written by Stephen King and directed by Quentin Tarantino. A funny joke to be sure, but those of us in the storytelling business know that these two master craftsmen would never have let last year get so out of control; 2020 jumped the shark months ago. I don’t know who wrote 2020, but whoever it is, they’re a hack.
We’re done with pretenders. We don’t want to see any more years, or read any more books, that have been dreamed up by amateurs. We want the work of a pro. We want to know that when we start a new year, or open a new book, we’re in good hands. Sure, there’ll be ups and downs, there’ll be plot twists and unexpected events. That’s what makes our books worth reading and our lives worth living. But in the end, we’re confident that the writer, whomever he or she is, knows what they’re doing.
That’s why this month, I’m recommending Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
How in the heck can a psychological thriller from 2012 be what we need right now? Well, the genre is all about what’s real and what isn’t real and that pretty much describes the state of things right now. More importantly, it’s because Gillian Flynn is the kind of writer who can live up to our high expectations.
I’ve been studying this novel for a few months now; yes, studying it. I’ve even recorded twelve podcast episodes about it. Flynn’s execution of craft is simply excellent. It’s not flashy. She doesn’t rely on spectacle to grab our attention. Instead, like Hitchcock, she relies on the fundamentals of storytelling and that’s a beautiful thing.
On the surface, Gone Girl is one hell of an entertaining read. It’s a rollercoaster of a book; the narrative drive is off the charts. You won’t be able to put the thing down and by the end, you’ll be delightfully exhausted.
Beneath the surface, Flynn is exposing the very things we don’t want to admit about ourselves. She’s showing us our seedy underbelly and that’s what makes this book chilling.
The book and the film have been around for a while now so I’m assuming I don’t need to summarize the plot. But even if you’ve watched the movie, I encourage you to read the novel.
New books are like new years. We begin them with high hopes and the belief that great things are about to unfold. More often than not, it all goes sideways because people don’t know what they’re doing. Gillian Flynn knows exactly what she’s doing and that’s why this book is a triumph.
This upcoming year will be written by us, collectively and individually. Let’s make sure we know what we’re doing so we too can triumph and create the stories we want to live.
The audiobook is narrated by Julia Whelan (as Amy) and Kirby Heyborne (as Nick). It’s an excellent interpretation of the text that won’t disappoint. However, because of the nature of the story, if there are little ears around, I recommend using headphones.