Review: Death Comes To Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. Random House. 2011. Personal copy. Vacation reads — a non-teen book for your reading pleasure over the holiday weekend.

The Plot: A murder mystery set several years after the events of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The murder takes place at the Darcy estate, and it’s up to Darcy and assorted friends and family to solve it.

The Good: I have to be honest: I was so looking forward to this book, and was disappointed.

One of the reasons I love fanfiction is because it does things like this: it asks, what if Elizabeth and Darcy had to solve a mystery? And bonus: written by P.D. James! Immediately in my head there were images of Elizabeth and Darcy being an Austen inspired Nick and Nora, or Booth and Bones, or, well, you get the picture.

What happened? Death Comes to Pemberley became the classic case of not being the book I wanted it to be. And, unfortunately for the book, I could not get to the point to read it as the book that it was.

The main characters were not the way I imagined them. After the initial fun of seeing just where James put them in life, I didn’t much care for them. They seemed off, from my memory and my hopes for them. Where Colonel Fitzwilliam ended up disappointed me to the extent I didn’t find it believable. Elizabeth and Darcy didn’t get enough time together; I was in Darcy’s head too much, Elizabeth’s too little. Darcy — well, it seemed like Darcy was patting himself on the back a bit too much for marrying down in marrying Elizabeth.

The historical aspects of the novel were spot on. James wrote in the style of the novel, which while it made sense, didn’t make an easy read. Elizabeth and Darcy have a couple of children, and I liked how that was handled. The murder, or, rather, the death, involves Wickham (of course, because WICKHAM) and I found this version of Wickham perplexing. Or, rather, Darcy and others view of Wickham. Despite Wickhams’ track record, there was a “well of course Wickham cannot be a murderer because he’s not that type of person.” Told over and over. To be fair, I think Darcy’s attitude towards Wickham was time period appropriate. But just because people then had a certain view and prejudice about people doesn’t mean they were right.

While I didn’t like certain aspects of Death Comes to Pemberley, I did like the exploration of criminal law at the time. It was fascinating, especially to this former lawyer. For me, Death Comes to Pemberley worked better as a historical fiction novel about the criminal justice system of the time than as a mystery.

So, why include this if I was disappointed? Well, not all readers were. And I wanted to show that I don’t love everything I read. And you may feel differently. And, because, well, despite not loving the book I’m still intrigued enough to be looking forward to the BBC/PBS miniseries based on the book.

Did you read Death Comes to Pemberley? Am I being too tough on it?

Other reviews: The New York Times; AustenProse; SonderBooks.

Review: Pain, Parties, Work

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder. HarperCollins. 2013. Personal Copy. Vacation reads — when I review not-teen books that people may be interested in reading!

It’s About: In June, 1953, Sylvia Plath was a guest editor for the fashion magazine, Mademoiselle. 

The guest editor program was prestigious. The month long stay in Manhattan, editing the annual college edition of the magazine, was supposed to be both about fun and about work.

Plath returned home, to Massachusetts, after the program. In August of 1953, Plath attempted suicide.

Plath would go on to use these experiences in her work of fiction, The Bell Jar, shortly before her death in 1963.

But what about the real program, not Plath’s fictional account?

What was it like? What happened? What did it mean to be one of the best and brightest young women in 1953, in Manhattan?

It meant — pain, and parties, and work.

The Good: Why, yes, I was one of those teenage girls. One of those girls who read and adored Plath.

I won’t bore you with all the details of why and what, exactly, it was about Plath and her work that captivated me.

I will say this: part of it was, and continues to be, the documentation of a time in history (the 1950s and early 1960s) from the point of a view of a talented, articulate, woman who wanted both what her society said (home, husband, children) and more (success, on her terms, using her name). I watch shows like The Hour, Mad Men, and Call the Midwife, and think of Plath.

Pain, Parties, Work concentrates on one specific time in Plath’s life. For readers advisory purposes, I’ll be brief: interested in Plath? Yes, you’ll like this. Do I recommend this as the “first” nonfiction book to read about Plath? No; I think a broader biography is a better place to start, but once started, you will crave the details that Pain, Parties, Work provide. Pain, Parties, Work is also a good look at a side of Plath, the one who loved food and fashion and fun, that is sometimes forgotten, when Plath is thought of the author of Lady Lazarus and Daddy, as the woman who killed herself as her children slept.

So, is this just for Plath readers? No. Pain, Parties, Work is not just about Plath; it is also about 1953, and being a woman in 1953, and the types of other young women who came to New York for the summer to do what Plath did. It is also about Mademoiselle, and what it was (an “intellectual fashion magazine”) and the women who worked there, such as Betsy Talbot Blackwell and Cyrilly Abels.

It’s about a world where wearing white gloves, in the summer, mattered.

A world where girdles were required.

Those details — the clothes, the food, the clubs, the taxis, the lipsticks, how to survive New York City in a heatwave with no air conditioning —  I adored them. To me, this is what makes history interesting and makes it come alive.

Back to Pain, Parties, Work: for Plath, that was New York and Mademoiselle. The pain both real (food poisoning) and emotional, as she pushed herself to both succeed and to make this chance matter. Plath was well aware of the opportunity she had, and she wanted. The parties; much like any internship or program, while Mademoiselle was about the work the young women did during that month, it was also about being in New York and attending the various parties and events the magazine organized. And finally it was about the work, and Winder argues that Plath’s role as guest managing editor was perhaps not the best fit for her talents, even though it was most prestigious. It also was one of the more demanding guest editor jobs, with perhaps less time for some of the parties and fun.

Now that I’ve read Pain, Parties, Work, I want to go back and read The Bell Jar. I know, I know — The Bell Jar is fiction. But, it is about a specific time and place, and I think having read Pain, Parties, Work will give me a better understanding of that setting.

Because Pain, Parties, Work, is about such a short time in Plath’s life, it doesn’t give answers to the “why” of Plath’s life or the “who” she really was. Most, now, would diagnose Plath with depression, or bipolar. Yes, she attempted suicide later that summer; and Pain, Parties, Work can be read to look for clues of that happening.  However, those things are few and far between, and it wasn’t the whole Plath. Or, at least, the self Plath was presenting to others — the successful, confident, talented woman. Winder doesn’t write looking to provide answers, but the reader can, if they choose, make their own decisions about Plath.

Other reviews: Slate; BookSlut; A Bookish Affair;  Seeing Sylvia Plath With New Eyes.

 

Review: Pet Sounds

Pet Sounds: New and Improved Stories From the QC Report by Quinn Cummings. Quinella Media USA. 2013. Review copy from author. It’s summer, so time for another “vacation reads” book.

It’s About: Pets. Cats, dogs, rabbits, even a lizard.

The Good: Let me be honest. I am not a pet person by nature. I am, instead, the sister and aunt of pet people, and since we all live together in one house, I have had being a pet person thrust upon me. I went from no pets to three cats, a chicken (don’t ask about what happened to the others), and double digits of hermit crabs.

It is easy to write a book about pets for fellow pet people. I don’t even want to say pet lovers, because while it is clear that Cummings loves her pets, it is also clear that she is a pet-person. An animal person. Who both attracts animals, and also goes the extra mile for animals. (As Cummings explains on her blog, The QC Report, “A dollar from the sale of each book will go to Sante D’Or, a shelter on the east side of Los Angeles.” And as she explains in her book, she volunteers at a local shelter.)

Animal people are, well, like my niece who believes that any book cover is made better by the presence of an animal. (She approves of the cover for Pet Sounds.) Or people like my various friends who have pets. For example, when I read about the cat who liked to kill small creatures and bring them back as gifts, I thought, oh, Leila at Bookshelves of Doom will like this book because her cat does that. I easily thought of other pet people who will connect, identify, and laugh along with this book.

But a book for a reluctant pet person to enjoy? That is a much trickier thing because I don’t, by default, think like a pet person — well, think whatever it is that pet people think about pet stories. At first glance, it would seem that I am not the audience for this book.

And yet, Dear Reader, I LOVED this book. So,  yes, you pet lovers out there, will laugh and cry (and feel good because of the contribution). But the other ones? The ones who are more like me? Who wonder why are you spending money on pet food when it could be spent on food or cardigans? Will also love this.

Why?

Because Pet Sounds is funny. Laugh out loud funny. Mark Twain funny. I kept highlighting passage after passage. It’s funny about pets, and owning pets, and what the pets do. “That is the same cat that normally treats us like roommates arbitrarily assigned by the dorm manager until sophomore year when she can move off campus to live with the cool drama majors.” “”Sometimes I think we keep [the dog] around because it comforts us humans to know that no matter what we do, we are still not the dumbest mammals in the house.” And you don’t have to be a pet person to enjoy that humor.

And Pet Sounds is also warm, showing what people will do for the animals in their lives. Not just the obvious, in terms of food and vet bills, but, well, when someone is allergic to pets and keeps them? That is dedication. And it’s educational. I understand, a bit better, the way the cats in this house act. (Though I still don’t understand the recent cat war that has resulted in George refusing to leave the basement while Miles and Gentle Hunter are all, “third cat? There is a third cat? Are you sure?”) And both those things, like humor, are just as much for us non pet people.

And Pet Sounds is also wise. “But pets exist in my experience to remind me of life’s greatest truths: stuff happens; roll with it; everything will work out; and don’t forget the water bowl.” And this may be why I loved this book so much. Because those truths are the truths I believe in yet need to be reminded about.

Two more reasons I love Pet Sounds. First, as is discussed in the Geek Mom interview of Cummings by Melissa Wiley, Cummings got the idea to collect her blog posts about her pets and make a book. She discusses the process, including getting an editor and shaping the blog posts into a book. I geeked out about that, because I love process details like that. (Geek Mom? Geeked out? See what I did there?) Second, reading Pet Sounds was like spending time with a good friend: the conversational tone, the humor, the references all had me not just nodding along but sometimes talking to the book. (For the record, the book did not talk back.)

So final verdict: a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

Review: Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon. Random House 2013. Random House Audio 2013. Reviewed from borrowed copy of audiobook. Making this part of my “vacation reads” series, figuring most of my readers who work in schools are on vacation now or soon will be!

It’s About: Bullying: it’s all over the news. The terrible way children and teens are treated by their peers, both in the “real world” and online via cyber-bullying.

Bazelon looks at bullying in depth: what it is, what people think it is, the way it’s been treated in the news, the manner that anti-bullying classes are incorporated into schools. She does so by examining the stories of three students in detail, as well as taking a historical look at the study of bullying and how children interact with each other.

The Good: A must-read, nuanced examination of what “bullying” is, and isn’t, especially the difference between “drama” (conflicts between kids) and “bullying.” The definition of bullying Bazelon uses (from research by Dan Olweus): “it had to be verbal or physical abuse, it had to repeat over time, and it had to involve an imbalance of power.” “Drama,” because it doesn’t involve that power (or has shifting power dynamics), is a more common occurrence, but still should be taken seriously. Bullying is also “a behavior that peaks in middle school, continues to some degree in high school, and then declines significantly in college.

What to do about bullying and drama? Sticks and Stones looks at how the culture of a school matters, and what anti-bullying programs work and why. Most important? Creating a school culture that doesn’t reward bullying or drama. Creating such a culture is neither easy nor simple; it’s not about a one-time assembly.

Easy or simple: the biggest take-away I had from Sticks and Stones is that bullying (and drama) isn’t easy or simple. Easy or simple reactions or solutions at best, don’t work, or at worst, create a worse problem. Is a bully best served by suspension or being expelled, or is he or she best served by helping them have empathy and other skills to not bully? Add that assumes that the situation is indeed bullying, and not drama between two equals (or two kids with varying degrees of power, depending on the time and situation.) “Drama” has it’s own issues, yes, but since resolving personal conflict is a much-needed skill for adults, part of childhood drama has to be children and teens working it out without adult intervention.

The second biggest take-away? The issue of mental health and children and teens. Some of the reason for the decline in bulling seems to be about the growing maturity of those involved, both in terms of greater empathy and in greater skills to combat or ignore it. Put empathy and awareness aside, there remains the mental health of both the bully and the victim. A child may bully because of underlying mental health issues; a victim may react in ways because they are already fragile because of their mental health.

The third take-away? Bazelon talks about creating a culture of empathy within schools. As I see and observe behavior in media — in TV shows, or in comments sections, or in politics — I think a bigger culture of empathy is needed.

I would like to say more: about the programs discussed, the children Bazelon interviews, the situations examined. Sticks and Stones is so nuanced, and Bazelon’s treatment is such, that I don’t want to give bite size, simplistic confusions. Just, this: Sticks and Stones is a must-read, which offers much to the reader in terms of how best to work with children and teens and what programs to use in schools. Part of the reason I decided to post this now at the beginning of summer vacation for many schools is I think it will give readers who work in schools time to think and plan for what they will do at the start of the next school year. Also, while Sticks and Stones focuses on children and teens, I’d also say it gives a structure for analysis for adults who encounter their own situations involving bullying and/or drama.

Further reading: Defining Bullying, a The New York Times op-ed by Emily Bazelon; review at The New York Times; review at S. Krishna’s Books; Interview with Emily Bazelon at NPR; Can We Really Stop Bullying at Slate. Edited to add The Power of Empathy: Q & A with Emily Bazelon at SLJ.

Review: The Plantagenets

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones. Viking. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Vacation reads (aka, when I talk about books for grownups and post them before holidays.)

It’s About: The designated heir of England dies in a shipwreck; England is plunged into civil war as descendants of William the Conqueror fight for the right to the throne; and the winning family is the Plantagenets.

Starting with Henry II, son of Geoffrey Plantagenet and Empress Matilda, wife of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and father of Richard the Lionheart and King John, and ending over two hundred years later with his many times great grandson Richard II, The Plantagenets tells of the men, the women, the battles, the politics, the murders, the laws and even the finances that created and shaped both England and its relationship with its kings.

The Good: Didn’t you see the title? THE PLANTAGENETS! Henry and Eleanor and Richard, and, well, another Henry and some Edwards tossed in, also. And of course JOHN. We can’t forget him.

For those who aren’t captivated at The Plantagenets, I give you this: It starts with a mega disaster of epic proportions. The heir to the English throne is on his way home, along with friends and relations, and of course when you’re seventeen and the world is yours what do you do? You party like a rock star. The fatal flaw in that plan is when the crew of your ship parties with you, crashing the ship before it leaves the harbor, and the heir, his family and friends, and the ships crew, all drown.

No, really. The heir’s death results in a “who gets to rule” game; and any game for a throne is a game played out in blood, and death, and battles, and treachery, and loyalty. And that’s just the start of it.

The Plantagenets covers a lot of kings: Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II, and their wives, children, cousins; those loyal to them, those who turned against them. It ends on a cliffhanger of a sort: the defeat of Richard II by Henry IV, resulting in the end of the Plantagenet reign and the start of the House of Lancaster.

All these people in one volume is pretty amazing; it’s almost impressive that it’s “only” 500-odd pages. And let me add: it’s an intense 500 pages. Each of these men and women would warrant a book of their own (and yes, there is a “Further Reading” section for those who want to know more). Heck, specific events within the reign of any particular king would warrant an individual book. Jones does the impossible: providing a lot of information about people with the same or similar names in a way that is both clear and concise and at the same time explains the complexity of a situation. And he does that for an incredible time span. An ally is not just an ally: it’s the grandson of someone significant.

The amount of information in The Plantagenets means a careful reading is needed. I found The Plantagenets best read in chunks: I’d read about one ruler, then put it down for a couple of days. A family tree is included, showing the important people mentioned, as well as maps to help explain the battles being fought, especially those on the Continent as the Plantagenets repeatedly clash with the kings of France. Despite the length, sometimes I did want “more” and got a quick fix going over to Wikipedia to find out more about a particular person. I don’t think this is a bad thing: there’s a limited number of pages, and Jones made me care so much about the people he mentioned that I wondered about them and wanted “more.” Wanting “more” is a good thing in a history book, because it means the book has achieved its goal of getting the reader excited about the topic and hungry for information. (Also, I cannot be the only reader who wonders, have any of these families survived to modern times? Or did battles for property and titles result in the death of these powerful families?)

An example of something that gets mentioned that I want to know more about: money. Kings needed money to wage war. Tax too much, and subjects get unhappy, especially if they feel uninvested in the war. So, what do you do when you need money? Borrow. Don’t ask me why, but the idea of the kings of England borrowing money from Italian banking families stunned me. I had no idea. And that defaulting ruined those banks, which led to the rise of the Medici family. Seriously, I did not know this!

I knew this was a violent time, and I knew that it was a time when kings still fought in battles. That is why they were kings, after all. What The Plantagenets does is make those battles and that violence real. When people were fighting for power, it was actual fighting. It wasn’t through political manipulations or game playing at court. Or, rather, it wasn’t just that. A ruler couldn’t just talk, he had to actually go out and make stuff happen.

I’m only half-kidding about the book ending on a cliffhanger. This covers just the Plantagenets; Jones plans a book about the War of the Roses and the Tudors. I cannot wait for his next book, even though the more I read about the Tudors the less I like them. Henry VIII just seems like a bit of a poser next to all the Plantagenets, even the weaker kings.

In the meanwhile, I’ll be content with this one and with calling it a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

My only disappointment with reading the electronic ARC of this book is that it doesn’t have the eight pages of pictures that are in the hardcover. I know, I know — I’m not that silly person asking for a photograph of Alexander the Great. But, there are castles or ruins of castles; stained glass and tapestries; objects that have survived the centuries. I want to see these, so will be pursuing finished copy! (Note: I made an error about the lack of illustrations, and corrected this sentence to reflect that pictures appear in the final version. Sorry about that!)

Other reviews and interviews: Author interview at Library Journal; Open Letters Monthly.

Long time readers of this blog may remember that one of my favorite books from childhood is as A Proud Taste for Scarlett and Miniver by E. L. Konigsburg; it started a lifelong love of English history, helped along by films like The Lion In Winter. In my teenage years I read a lot of Jean Plaidy, loving the historic details that brought the time periods alive as well as the attention paid to the women in history. Another book I read in my late teens was Susan Howatch’s The Wheel of Fortune. I didn’t realize it when I began reading, but it takes the story of Edward III and sets it in the early part of the twentieth century, leading up to the 1960s.

So, here’s my question to you: what are some of your favorite books set during the Plantagenet period, from 1154 to 1399?

Review: Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone

Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye. Penguin Books. 2012. Personal copy. Vacation reads, a series of adult books reviewed before holidays for your vacation reading.

The Plot: Christian has returned home, returned from the United States to Germany, to a place that is no longer the dark, small town he remembers but instead is a place of vacation homes and brightness. Retired, away from Germany for decades, he returns after the death of his mother.

He sees friends from his past: Martin, Alex, Linde. Their past holds secrets, the types of secrets that people in small towns know about but do not talk about. “Our secrets in Hemmersmoor were always open and always kept safe.”

An old man has returned to his childhood home. Come, let him and his friends tell you their secrets.

Be warned: these secrets are dark.

The Good: I’m not sure what I thought Your House is on Fire was going to be; oh, I knew it was about secrets, about what had happened to these adults as children, I expected twists and turns and  to be scared and horrified.

Still, knowing all this, I didn’t expect — I couldn’t know —

Christian says at the beginning, “I have returned, but not to the village I once left. That village doesn’t exist anymore, survives in only my memories and dreams.” I was thinking something like Peter Straub’s Ghost Story or Stephen King’s IT would follow. Both of those books are lighthearted romps with puppies and unicorns in sunny fields of rainbows and daisies compared to Your House is on Fire. I thought this was going to be creepy; it is, but it so redefines creepy that I’ll be frugal about how I use that word in the future.

I began, thinking ah, Christian is the main character because he begins the story. He lets us know hints of some of the secrets that will come (Alex’s time in jail, Linde’s scarred face, deaths in Christian’s family). After the prologue, though, there are a series of small chapters, each with a different narrator (Martin, Christian, Linde, Anke) telling a different story of themselves and their town, starting with when the children are seven. “Time is of no importance,” the reader is told — and Your House is on Fire tells us how true that can be.

Kiesbye never gives the reader a year, but he gives clues. The talk of two Germanys, of wars, of televisions and trainers in the present, let the reader know that this story is taking place after World War II, with these children born in the end days of that War. Lurking unsaid over this tale of tangled secrets, dark desires, darker actions is the bigger secret, unspoken but known, of the town’s role in that war and what lies behind the town.

The first story, told by Martin, is the story that let me know I’d fallen into a rabbit hole, had no idea what was up or what was down or what would happen next. Martin, only seven, is telling about the town’s fall Thanksgiving festival and the yearly contest for best stew, best roast, best baked goods. I settle in, and get what I expect in Martin’s story told from seven year sensibilities and then — wait, what? What just happened? No, it couldn’t, it didn’t go there — And Martin, almost innocently, always matter of factly, continues on almost as if he didn’t share watching a horrible crime.

This is a horror story, make no doubt about it. Is it a supernatural one? I think not, even though there are references to ghosts and witches, to folk lore believed as truth, to curses. It can be read as a place where belief makes old wives tales real; or it can be read, as I do, with ghosts and witches being used to try to understand a confusing world where a prior generations actions and inactions, no matter how much kept secret, tangle up the lives of the village’s residents and even children cannot escape.

The sins of the parents, though, is too easy an answer for what happens in Your House is on Fire. Christian, Martin, and the others have free will, after all — and what is most surprising to me is how long they disassociate themselves from their own actions. Perhaps this is also merely a reflection of the war years and the aftermath, the ability to not take ownership.

Have I been clear enough that I adored and loved this Your House is on Fire? I did; it’s a Favorite Book Read in 2013; and I want others to read it. I love what is said and unsaid; I love the language. I love the hints that this is fairy tales made real, that this is history, that this is a Twilight Zone town made real. I love that it’s a story tightly told without any extra words. I loved the unflinching look, almost without judgment, at the darkness in people. I love how much is left up to the reader. I love how unsettling it was. Word of warning — if you need to “like” characters to read a book, then this is not for you. 

Other reviews: The Book Smugglers; Author Interview at CarolineLeavittville; Jenn’s Bookshelves.

 

 

 

Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Crown Publishing Group. 2012. Personal copy. Part of my “vacation reads” series; that is, when I review a book for the grown ups instead of teen books.

The Plot: On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s wife Amy goes missing. He tells us how he comes home from work to find the door open, the living room showing signs of a struggle and Amy gone. Nick is telling us the story, his story, about two New Yorkers who lost their jobs and so moved back to his home town in Missouri to take care of his sick mother. Nick tells his story, and it’s not pretty. He’s honest about his emotions and resentment and it’s not pretty.

Then Amy speaks up, or, rather, Amy from years ago, her diary from when she first met Nick, and back and forth this married couple go, telling their story, not realizing how their words interact and create a rhythm and a whole story. A story of two people in an unhappy marriage, he telling it now, she going through the history of courtship and marriage, not realizing she is leading us to the day. The fifth anniversary. The day she goes missing.

The Good: Sorry, but this is another one of those books where I gush about loving it yet cannot tell to much about it.

Nick and Amy, Amy and Nick. When they were both writing and in New York, half living off Amy’s trust fund, things were easy and happy and wonderful. Then the trust fund disappeared, their jobs writing for magazines were gone, and they were in Missouri renting a McMansion while Nick runs a local bar with his twin sister and Amy. . . . Amy sits at home, getting older, no longer the cool, pretty, rich young girl she once was.

Here is Nick, on renting their home in a failed development: “It was a compromise, but Amy didn’t see it that way, not in the least. To Amy, it was a punishing whim on my part, a nasty, selfish twist of the knife. I would drag her, caveman-style, to a town she had aggressively avoided, and make her live in the kind of house she used to mock. I suppose it’s not a compromise if only one of you considers it as such, but that was what our compromises tended to look like. One of us was always angry. Amy, usually.” Only page eleven, and Nick’s own words, and already I don’t like him.

Pages later, Amy, and Amy from seven years ago: “I met a boy! . . . I met a boy, a great, gorgeous dude, a funny, cool-ass guy.” The enthusiasm! Of course, I like Amy. And yet… and yet. There are things she says, like when she talks about how other couples are not as cool as she and Nick: “Nick and I, we sometimes laugh, laugh out loud, at the horrible things women make their husbands do to prove their love. The pointless tasks, the myriad sacrifices, the endless small surrenders. We call these men the dancing monkeys. . . . I don’t need pathetic dancing-monkey scenarios to repeat to my friends; I am content with letting  him be himself.” The situation this comes up in is Amy describing a night out for drinks with her friends and their husbands. Nick never shows, because he is not some “dancing monkey” and if he wants to do something different, he does, and aren’t Amy and Nick wonderful for not being overly demanding of each other? It’s as if Amy doesn’t realize she is painting Nick as incredibly self-centered and selfish, in not showing up or even calling about meeting for drinks. It’s as if Amy doesn’t realize it’s also making her look judgmental and cruel.

And so Gone Girl continues, showing us all their warts, all the deep, dark bad places in a person’s heart. Is Amy missing? Or did Nick kill her? Nick killing her almost seems like too easy an answer, even though at times it seemed like he was quite capable of hurting her. As for Amy, yes, we have her diary. But who is Amy, really?

And just when you think you have figured out the story, the kaleidoscope shifts, and everything you thought changes. And then changes again. This is wonderful storytelling, layered, complex, and deep, about two very flawed people. Gone Girl is about the way we see ourselves, and how we treat others, but told using two people who — well. After this book, I wanted to take a hot shower, to scrub my brain clean, to erase them from my brain. Some books show me the best in people; this showed me the worst. Yet, I want everyone to read it, because, whether as mystery or psychological character study, this is a brilliant book. I had to know what happened next, and kept turning pages, until it was two in the morning.

There is an interesting children’s literature tie-in: Amy’s parents write children’s books. Not just any books, but a series about Amazing Amy, slightly modeled on their only child. Amy ages and grows up, and she’s popular with readers. Amy’s relationship with her parents and with her  literary-other is fascinating. What does it do to someone whose childhood is fodder for books? Is it the ultimate gift to a child or the ultimate punishment?

Do I think teens would like this book? Well,  honestly, this is more for the grown ups. I’m not saying teens shouldn’t read it; I just don’t see it having teen appeal. Yes, they may find the Amazing Amy aspect interesting, but that is only a part of the book.

Because I am haunted by Nick and Amy. Because as god made them, he matched them. Because of the unreliable narrators. Because of the puzzle like structure. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: EW’s Shelf Life author interview; S. Krishna’s Books.