Gone Girl & 1984--All that Social Commentary
It's been quite a while since I posted here. All my posts seem to end with "more soon" and then a month goes by. Lately I've been relishing my space offline--lurking about online, reading and "liking" things as appropriate, but devoting the bulk of my energies to more immediate and pressing needs offline. Working abroad, son aiming for a competitive university next year, and trying to sustain a semblance of a writing career certainly create a lot of pressing needs.
In the meantime I continue to read. Escapist literature (Can it be called literature? I think so.) has been an effective salve recently. And unfortunately, as I began to come to the close of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl this past week, I began to stay up later and later, somehow surviving on 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Is this a good thing? Well, I just finished the book so now that it's over I don't have to answer that question. :)
Still, I picked up Gone Girl firstly because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. And secondly I noticed the book had some billing as a social commentary--a subject I am always interested in. Now that I've finished the book, what do I think?
I think Gone Girl is readable, but not for everyone. To me the book is more escapist literature than anything, but I enjoyed my time with the book.
Gone Girl's social commentary is about how our consumer/greed/desire-driven culture creates a "deadening" effect in people, and how these people act when they become "deadened": their love for life and each other becomes corrupted and highly dysfunctional. Amy was apparently dysfunctional long before she met Nick, but it was only when both Nick and Amy's livelihoods and way of life fell apart did their love begin to collapse. There's social commentary here about love between partners for life and what part civilization plays in such love. If both Nick and Amy are merely enactments of social forces, do their decisions matter in the end? If their means of survival is to carry out the expectations of society, is there anything left of them as individual human beings? In fact, in the end, both acknowledge they live together in a facade of marriage and love that occasionally feels real. The habits of marriage Amy and Nick carry out to keep up appearances lead both to experience flashes of genuine marital bliss. What then is true love? Gone Girl offers the word "derivative" every 30-40 pages.
1984 in its own way asks the same questions, but the lovers are complete victims of society in a different way. Winston and Julia are aware of the risks of their love but they roll the dice to be together no matter what. When discovered and judged by their government/society, as a consequence Julia and Winston are physically and psychologically broken. They survive, but they are broken.
As readers, during their meetings, we witness what appears to be Winston and Julia having a chance to enjoy love outside the boundaries of their government's legal social norms. Nick and Amy, conversely, never really break or leave the boundaries of their love's social impulses. Those same impulses drive both of them together, apart, and together again, but the impulses never leave the couple.
So when I think about Gone Girl as social commentary I don't think it offers any means or hope for individual survival, which may be because the characters are irreparable products of a corrupt civilization. 1984 gives us tragedy because Winston and Julia create--through their intimacy--a place of love separate from government oppression. Had they never been discovered their love may have flourished within the confines of their political circumstances. Nick and Amy can only create what society has empowered them to create. Their love is already enthralled and defined by America's culture of social and political economic power, and so their love will never rise above these circumstances. It's hard for me to find tragedy when there may never have been hope for something positive in the end.
I'm not sure what it is in me lately that makes me want to read escapist titles on dystopian themes. Is it a sublimated sense of doom from the so called 6th extinction? Or is it I am a character enthralled in America's socio-economic, class-driven pressure cooker (well, partially enthralled, in any event)? Do I feel angst, but like so many Americans don't know what to do about it?
My answer is this: I like to read everything. This is just my most recent kick. I'll change again. Already I can feel it. I'm going to next read Stephen King's The Stand. I will be reading the book with Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" on my periphery, given that was supposed to have been an influence on the novel. And last month I finished Max Brooks' World War Z and Zombie Survival Guide, the latter more interesting for its writerly style--the diction and tone--than anything else. Well that's not true. There is something to be said for the creative imagination behind those books: what kind of person writes a zombie survival instruction guide, and why? And how does such a book become a NYTimes best seller? What, if anything, does that say about an American reading audience's demographics?
Sometimes the best thing to do is simply turn out the lights, meditate, and then go to sleep. Right now that's what I think I will do.