Saturday, December 7, 2013

'Gone Girl': Reading Saudade for Gen-X in Landscape


Gone (v.) 1. past participle of go. --(adj.) 2. departed; left. 3. lost or hopeless. 4. ruined. 5. dead; deceased. 6. past. 7. weak and faint; a gone feeling. 8. used up. 9. Slang. a. pregnant: two months gone. b. great; outstanding. c. exhilarated; inspired. --Idiom. 10. far gone, in an advanced state as of love, exhaustion, or illness. 11. gone on, Informal, infatuated with; in love with.

Saudade (n.) A Portuguese and Galician word that has no direct translation into English. It describes a deep, melancholic longing for someone or something that is loved but is absent. A repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return tends to increase the nostalgia or melancholia.

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After learning that Cape Girardeau, Missouri, was serving as the backdrop for filming part of Gillian Flynn's novel and screenplay Gone Girl, I decided to purchase the book and read it. I don't usually care for murder mysteries, especially when a husband is the prime suspect--too much of that sort of thing going on in real life--but I had heard from a reliable source that this one would surprise me. Boy, did it ever.

While someone else who has read this as well as Ms. Flynn's other novels recently gave me her opinion that the ending of this one was disturbing or unsatisfactory, I had just the opposite reaction. For some reason (maybe it's the gardener-in-me), the moment near the beginning when Nick Dunne (husband-suspect) comes home from The Bar (his business in a fictional Missouri town) to find his wife Amy missing, the mention of "red peonies along the border looking fat and juicy, asking to be devoured" stops me dead in my reading tracks. Why? Because when he wakes up that morning, it is to the glaring sun "revealing its full summer angry-god self." Peonies do not bloom in the middle of summer.

Green Lynx spider guarding her egg sac and babies

Naturally, I'm intrigued by this seemingly awkward intrusion of peonies on the scene. Is it just authorial or editorial ignorance or clumsiness? Ah. No, I don't think so. This is a New York Times bestseller, after all, carefully crafted and edited, and soon to be a major motion picture. Red peonies out of time, out of place are there for a reason.

Before the red peonies appear and the husband-suspect discovers his missing wife, before he gets out of bed that morning to face the glaring sun, he remembers what brought him back to his roots: the impending death of his "indomitable mother" with the expectation that his "nasty"-minded, "miserable"-hearted dad would soon follow suit. And if that weren't heart-string tugging enough, he has a twin sister, Margo or Go as he calls her, who needs his help caring for their parents.


A word of advice to the potential reader/movie-goer: Think critically. Don't be fooled and don't feel sorry. The main characters in this novel are Gen-X-ers, a generation caught in the throes of a midlife crisis.(A.O. Scott, a writer for the New York Times, established the presence of this phenomenon in an article published May 9, 2010.) Nick, Amy, Margo. They're all goners. They're over the hill and done (Dunne?) been sold down the river--unemployed--by dot-com washouts and various financial meltdowns. They have become Beverly Hillbillies in reverse. Their new-found poverty takes them from The Shiny Big Apple (New York City) to one of the unlucky buckles of the Rust Belt--Missouri....

When SAM and I were newly married and he was fresh out of college, back when the last of the Gen-X-ers were still toddling around and filling their diapers, we considered that we were relatively fortunate. We were debt-free (college tuition was cheap), one income was enough to pay the bills, and there were years ahead of us in which to work hard, have several children, save money for retirement, and eventually watch our many grandchildren grow up, in between long vacations to various far-flung, exotic places. New York City? Yep, maybe that too. It'd be nice to see what imagination can build with other people's money. The Rust Belt, though, would keep its grip on us for more than two decades while the dreams mentioned above slipped away. Life was a struggle, up and down, mostly down. But we stuck together and muddled through because that's what Rust-Belted Baby-Boomers are supposed to do....

Floodwall in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, overlooking the Mississippi River
The river that Life is takes its toll, I guess, on most people and their dreams. This past week saw the death of Nelson Mandela. As so many public figures have proclaimed, he has gone to a better place. His spirited fight against apartheid in South Africa was subdued by 27 years in prison--not vanquished, just subdued, but something else too. It was refined, like gold by fire, made brilliant like diamonds by heat and pressure. If he hadn't been caught and imprisoned, South Africa as a nation might have collapsed or been torn apart by a fiery uprising out of control.


With all of the media hoopla that has gone on surrounding his death, you can definitely sense saudade surrounding an iconic figure from a bygone era. According to a program I watched on PBS, Mandela belonged to a group of people bent on destroying the government of South Africa. His fellow political prisoners recall what life was like during those long years of waiting for change to happen. Theirs was a progressive movement, informed and inspired by communism. It was tired of the status quo and wanted change in a hurry, never mind the damage or loss of life. The river that Life is slowed them down, made them think, ponder, consider. Apartheid eventually crumbled, but the nation of South Africa remains intact. Blacks and whites alike mourn the man who is gone.

Now, going back to the book, Gone Girl. It has done a lot lately to "trouble the waters" of my mind. I guess that's what a well-written book is supposed to do. Now, I won't say that it's flawless, and I'm sure that a good critic can really pick it apart and expose the flaws. It's unsettling, maybe even disturbing, as my fellow reader mentioned at the beginning had decided. Isn't that what a well-written book is supposed to do? Unsettle. Disturb. Make you think, ponder, consider. Let's hope the movie does justice to its namesake.

13 comments:

Claude said...

Red Peonies? I remember, from my youth in Illinois, that peonies were always blooming on Memorial Day. I remember this, because I remember my mother and my grandmother cutting fans of iris leaves, sewing them together with a large needle and string, then tying a bundle of peony blooms in the middle to put on the graves.

Then they would pack up fried chicken and a gallon of ice tea, we'd drive to the graveyard and clean the graves, then have lunch on the grounds.

Actually, it's one of my fondest childhood memories.

Dorothy Borders said...

Interesting take on this book. I read it earlier this year and found that it mostly lived up to its hype. It is an intriguing story.

Geo. said...

My ethnicity is Portuguese and I appreciate your use of the word, Saudade, in its most appropriate form. I remember it also meant a longing for what never was --a magical word that always has something left after definition. Had not thought of it in a long time. You use it very well. My compliments.

walk2write said...

Exactly right, Claude. Their peak of bloom is before summer (officially) begins. I remember them too. I had a beautiful pink one growing in my Illinois garden. It usually favored me with a bunch of blooms right around Mother's Day.

Thanks, Ms. Dorothy. I'm glad you liked my take. We missed most of the movie-making hype back home but heard about it from various relatives. I'm sure there will be another buzz of excitement when the movie comes out next fall. Maybe the stars and author will return to Cape for a visit when it does.

Rose said...

I completely missed those red peonies in "Gone Girl"! I really don't think they're symbols, or if they are, someone missed the error in timing. I read this book over a year ago and also thought the ending was unsettling, though it seemed logical. The book is really a page-turner, and the author does a great job of keeping you in suspense. But when I finished, I wasn't sure I liked it that much, and finally realized it was because I didn't like the characters at all. It's hard to feel sympathy for either Nick or Amy when they're so self-centered. I hope not all Gen-X-ers are like this.

As much as I like fiction, I'd much rather read about someone like Nelson Mandela!

troutbirder said...

Well you got my attention. And then my interest. We're shortly taking on first extended snowbird vacation (to Cedar Key in Florida) and I now know what book I'll be putting on my Nook before we go. And waiting till fall for the movie....;)

walk2write said...

Mr. Geo, I'm glad that I could bring a magical word to your thoughts again. It was a new word for me when I wrote this post, and I can't recall exactly how I encountered it. Some sort of Google search I guess.

Rose, since there is so little plant life mentioned in the book, I think the peonies are significant. I agree with you about the characters. I try to find some redeeming quality in every character, real or imaginary, but these two were so far gone, it was like raking muck.

TB, I hope you have a great time in Florida. One of these days you will have to take a detour and visit the LA (lower Alabama) section of Florida. As for the book, don't gorge yourself on it like I nearly did at one sitting. It's very tempting to do that, but you might miss something.

Sarah Laurence said...

I read and reviewed this book too (http://blog.sarahlaurence.com/2012/10/gone-girl-by-gillian-flynn.html) and it was interesting to see how your reaction differed and lined up with mine. There were a lot of red herrings and clues. It was a fun read, but I think it might work better as a movie.

I'm sorry that we've lost Mandela but I'm pleased to have lived through all the positive changes he inspired.

Brigitta Huegel said...

Dear Walk2write,
thank you for bringing attention to this interesting crime novel (I read a lot, and it is sometimes work for me, analyzing or translating)- it was new for me. Some crime-writers are great gardeners - Ruth Rendell e.g. has often very sagacious parts in her Wexford novels - but sometimes the translators are not good gardeners - and then one reads awful blunders - but in your case you had the original text, so I go with you in believing it had an aim.

walk2write said...

Thanks, Sarah, for mentioning your review. I will definitely stop by your site and check it out. I can't wait to see this one as a movie, especially since it will feature some familiar places, including Giant City State Park (one of our favorite places to hike).

Britta, I'm always glad to pass along interesting reading material. Thank you for giving me an author to investigate--Ms. Rendell. I'm always glad to check out someone new (to me). I've been thinking that publishers and movie producers should look into hiring gardening consultants. It might save them some needless embarrassment and give their work more complexity.

A Cuban In London said...

Saudade is one of my favourite words ever, along with "craic" in Gaelic. So, it follows that I loved your post and your take on this book.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for you and your family.

Greetings from London.

walk2write said...

Glad you liked the post, ACIL. Of course, you know I'm a word hound. I will have to put my nose to the ground for that word "craic." Sounds like a juicy one. Merry Christmas and New Year greetings to you and your family!

Boris Estebitan said...

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