Yesterday I shared the first of two gripes I had about NPR Book Critic Alan Cheuse's summer reading list. Today I'll tell you my second, and then I promise I'm done (for now!)
Cheuse loved Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL. I loved GONE GIRL. So we're good, right?
Not quite. Cheuse makes no bones about the fact that Flynn's book is the "fun" one on his list, the frivolous one. I suspect that's because it's a thriller - commercial fiction rather than literary, as are the others on his list.
I've said it all before so I won't belabor the point too much: a genre work can be every bit as weighty, as relevant, as affective as its literary cousin.
I will admit my argument falls apart a little as GONE GIRL trundles along into its second half, where it does become a bit more of a set piece, with the emphasis on device perhaps more than language or character.
However, i would put Flynn's character work up against that of any contemporary literary writer. The book pulses with it; the device mentioned above would never work without it.
This is no trivial feature of a novel. It is the novel, and I'm not the first or only to make that claim; while I don't want to bother to find examples now (I'm supposed to be getting my other words done, my fiction words), great writers in every genre have said, each in her own words, that readers remember character and forget the rest.
Cheuse, when inviting the listener to consider GONE GIRL, says he is making a "descent into the lower tones," into "good nasty fun."
And yet I would say that the landscape for GONE GIRL - a flawed marriage - is no more "fun" than a 70's commune (Groff) or adult children recalling their parents' foibles (Ford). And by calling it that, we diminish it.
When my first book came out, I asked for a blurb from a writer I admire, one whose fiction is certainly beautiful and "important." He gave me a nice quote and then told me I had written a "fun little book," the equivalent of a pat on the head for an eager child.
I allowed his assessment to diminish my opinion of my own work for quite some time. It's only now, several years after A BAD DAY FOR SORRY came out, that enough women have come up to me at book events to tell me how much the book meant to them, empowered them (their words) that I realize I did something, well, important.
Please, Cheuse & Company, consider your words carefully. You called GONE GIRL "a beach book you won't mind being seen with this summer" - that praise is a bit too damning for my taste.