It’s Been Too Long Since My Last: Links Round-Up

Oops, the holidays happened and I forgot to post links round-ups. I know you have all been suffering terribly without them. My hope is that you improved the shining hour by catching up on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and The Good Place, my two favorite shows on TV. But if you just moped around a-waiting, here’s the goods at last.

Black women have largely been left out of the conversation about harassment (quelle surprise). Rebecca Carroll talks about her experience of racist belittlement from Charlie Rose.

On the state of Kentucky and the borders of the South.

Gillian Flynn writes about how those men view women. It is rough. No wonder her books are the way they are.

Debut novelist Naima Coster talks about what it meant to have a black woman as her editor. (Her book sounds really good too!)

This season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been incredibly good. Angelica Jade Bastien talks about watching it while coming to terms (again) with her own mental illness and suicide attempt.

Melissa Harris-Perry contemplates the #MeToo backlash, and how we can stop it.

Nikole Hannah-Jones continues to do incredible work on school segregation in the US, and this interview at the Atlantic is fuego. When she writes a book, when that day comes, I am going to buy 29 copies of it and distribute them to a bunch of people.

On the poignancy of acknowledgements in books. I love acknowledgements in books. I am not ashamed.

Carly Lane talks about negative responses to Star Wars and the perils of becoming too committed to fan theories and headcanons.

How were the Porgs created? The answer is goddamn adorable.

Scaachi Koul thinks Logan Paul is an asshole and says so much more eloquently than I ever could.

And by the way, I’m not linking it, but there’s a Washington Post article making the rounds about how maybe Logan Paul did some good by drawing attention to the suicide problem in Japan. Among other things, it implies that media guidelines for reporting on suicide (which are based in research about suicide contagion) are similar in quality to the culture of shame and silence around suicide in Japan. It makes me want to punch a wall. It’s less harmful for the media to say nothing than it is for them to report irresponsibly (as they consistently do). I am wrath.

Happy weekend! Stay warm!

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

Nothing I want to say about Gone Girl can be said without spoilers, so on the off chance that anybody reading this post has been slower than me to read Gone Girl, and cares about spoilers, begone with you! (Instead of reading this post, you should go read Ana’s post about books where The Twist dominates conversations about the book. Not apropos of anything! Not being pointed! Just an interesting read!)

Gone Girl

Okay! If you didn’t want to be spoiled, I hope you have stopped reading! I am going to say spoilers now!

Now I’m going to say them.

Right now.

(I’m doing additional precautions because I was out having yogurt with my parents, and my mother got upset with me for revealing something that you find out about the middle of Gone Girl. Sorry, Mumsy! But to be fair, you always want me to tell you what happens in books. I had no way of knowing that this one was different.)

When you know from the beginning — as I did — that Amy is a crazy person who’s framing her husband for her own murder as revenge for his cheating on her, the first half of Gone Girl reads like a “Can This Marriage Be Saved” column for sociopaths. In alternating chapters, Nick tells us about being the husband of a woman who has disappeared, and Amy tells us about meeting Nick and falling in love with him. Knowing that Amy is deliberately crafting the persona of a woman who gradually comes to fear her husband made this a particular joy to read. It’s so fun to see all the traps that have been laid for Nick, how guilty he looks, even to the reader, even though we’re inside his head. It’s like a British sitcom — but creepy — where the situation spirals further and further out of control with every passing minute, until we get a reset (the sitcom episode ends; Amy comes back).

In the second half of the book, we have the fun of seeing Amy get herself into difficulties and then wriggle back out of them. I’ve seen some reviews of Gone Girl that complained about the apparent inconsistency of Amy being set up as this disturbingly brilliant woman and then getting screwed over by a couple of low-level criminals in the middle of the book. I had just the opposite reaction: it seemed completely in keeping with the character. Amy’s a planner, not an improviser. She’s a master of the long con, taking established patterns and turning them to her advantage, but she’s terrible at thinking fast on her feet.

(Full disclosure: I overidentified with that aspect of Amy’s character. I am excellent at planning schemes, but I, too, do not do well with sudden bumps in the road.)

And sure, Amy’s a cartoonish villain. But she’s not cartoonish because she’s too smart; she’s cartoonish because she’s evil, and her sociopathy is crazy fun to read about. I didn’t care about the improbability of the twists and turns, or about the too-pat psychology of a girl whose parents fictionalized her life growing up to have no clear identity of her own. It was just too fun a book to worry about any of that.

I’m kinda psyched for this movie. At first I thought they were casting Ben Affleck just cause he’s famous, but I now realize that it is a piece of absolutely perfect casting. If you had asked me, “Who’s that movie star who has a face you want to punch, and like, he’s an Irish working-class kid in the body of a total trust-fund douchebag?” (which is how Nick describes himself), I’d have said, “I dunno, Ben Affleck maybe?” Way to go, casting directors. Way to earn your keep.

Dark Places, Gillian Flynn

Ta-da! At last I have read this book and can proceed, like a year later, to Gone Girl. Seriously, it is almost a year later. You would not believe how long it takes for a hold on a Gillian Flynn book to get in at the library.

Dark Places is about the only survivor of a massacre that killed her whole family. At the age of seven, Libby Day testified that she saw her older brother Ben murder her mother and two older sisters. Now she’s in her thirties, running out of money left her by sympathetic well-wishers, and searching for another source of income. When she finds a local “Kill Club” obsessed with proving her brother’s innocence and willing to give her money for any information she can give them about the crime, she reluctantly agrees to do some further research into what happened on that night so many years ago.

The reason it’s fun to read an author’s books in order — I swear to God I’m going to get over the Taming of the Shrew hump and carry on reading all of Shakespeare’s plays in order — is that you get to see the themes that are going to run through their writing. My girlfriend Helen Oyeyemi is interested in doubles and myths that are coming to get you. Gillian Flynn is interested in unsympathetic, messed-up women and girls. That isn’t a criticism! I sort of like it. Unsympathetic female characters are apparently much harder to get away with than unsympathetic male characters, or else they’d give Ava Crowder more to do on Justified. Props to Gillian Flynn for doing this!

That said, there was something dreary about Dark Places that stopped me from enjoying it as much as I wanted to. I keep expecting her to tear through plot like they’re not making it anymore, and so far that hasn’t been what happens. (Gone Girl remains to be read so we’ll see what happens from here.) Dark Places expends a larger-than-strictly-necessary number of pages depicting The Many Humiliations of Flashback Ben. At times this got a little over the top. It was just humiliating thing after thing after thing, and although Flynn does create a mood, as well as an ongoing degree of doubt about Ben’s guilt, I kept thinking she could have accomplished the same goal in a more economical way.

Plus I just — I don’t know. For as gothic-feeling-Flannery-O’Connor as Gillian Flynn’s writing is, I want more interesting things to happen. I loved the meetings between Libby and the passionate ladies of the Kill Club. I wanted more of that, and less of her and her Flashback Mother wandering about their houses feeling glum and desperate. You knew they were desperate and glum from the beginning, you know? I didn’t necessarily need to be reminded of it over and over again.

These complaints are, of course, a function of Gillian Flynn’s high degree of acclaim as a writer (hence my high expectations, which y’all know can be a killer), and of my own particular taste in mysteries. If a mystery is going to be dreary, I want it to be emotionally wrenching. Or if it isn’t going to be emotionally wrenching, I want it to be madly entertaining and plotsy. PLOT. I can never have enough PLOT, y’all. And, you know, unexpected twists and turns, and things you weren’t expecting.

Anyway, onward! Gone Girl next! (But I am beginning to suspect I will never be slapping a “Favored authors” category on Gillian Flynn, even though her writing is good and I like how her women are all dysfunctional in a non-adorable, actually-really-screwed-up kind of way. Gritty has never been my thing.

Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn

Project: Read Gillian Flynn’s Books In Order is now one-third complete! Huzzah! Now I just have Dark Places and Gone Girl to go, and I already own one of those. So my project is closer to being, like, three-sevenths complete. It may be some time yet before I get to read Dark Places. I am eleventh of fourteen on the holds list for that one. It’ll happen! Just not right away. I’ll have plenty of time to think about Gillian Flynn in between reading her first and second books. If God truly loves me He’ll send me Dark Places right in time for my plane flight home later this month.

CHRISTMASSSSSSSSSS.

Y’all, Christmas is coming. I have all my gifts picked out and nearly all of them are purchased. That is the way that I roll. I hope you are similarly prepared. You can never be overprepared for Christmas, although you can have the thing where you think of a perfecter present on Christmas Eve but it’s much too late because you bought that person’s gift weeks ago already.

Amazon’s summary of Sharp Objects says this: Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

Camille’s particular flavor of dysfunction was something I loved about the books. Following the death of her sister in childhood, she became a cutter, and she carved words into her skin. Throughout the book she talks about what words are carved where, and sometimes what significance they had to her. This wasn’t something I’d seen before and as a big fan of words I thought it was a really interesting, inventive way to show us how messed up she has been by her past. Balancing this out is her warm and loving relationship with her boss and her boss’s wife — this is something I’ve seen before but it was very sweet anyway.

Another thing Flynn does superbly is to convey Camille’s claustrophobia at finding herself back in her childhood home. The town itself is very small, which can work to Camille’s advantage as she tries to learn more about the dead girls, but which also means that people remember her and her family and the person she was in high school. It made me feel that she was always being watched, which was nicely creepy. Then as well, her screwed-up relationship with her mother, who plainly thinks that the wrong daughter died, is portrayed very vividly. Camille is not even allowed to talk about the work she’s doing in town, because it’s too upsetting for her mother.

Camille has a much younger half-sister called Amma, who is thirteen (I believe) in the action of the novel. She reminds me of Pearl Prynne. That’s not really anything. I just wanted to let you know. Amma is basically Pearl Prynne to me, and Pearl Prynne remains the most irritating fictional child I can ever remember. However, it has been almost a decade since I read The Scarlet Letter, and maybe Pearl Prynne was not that bad after all.

(I think she probably was though.)

Sharp Objects is perhaps closer to a psychological thriller than a proper mystery. I liked that about it. It’s not really about the girls who are murdered, although there are murdered girls and at the end you do find out whodunnit. Instead the arc of the book is about Camille being broken down once again by a past she barely managed to get away from the first time. Flynn’s artistry in setting up this arc is wonderful, and it fits into the main mystery in an interesting, unexpected way.

Plus, if I may be allowed a slightly spoilery remark, from which you should avert your eyes if you fear being spoiled in the slightest, it was really, really refreshing to read a book where the motive for killing little girls wasn’t sex. That was my main reservation going into the book — there are just a lot of books about girls being killed, you know? — and I felt weirdly grateful to Gillian Flynn for taking the plot in a whole other direction.

So there we go. Next up, Dark Places. I am excited for Gone Girl and have high hopes that I can make that happen at Christmastime.