Saturday, June 23, 2012

Happily Never Afters

A storybook romance, a fairytale wedding, a perfect marriage... such things fill the hopes and dreams of romantics (and eternal optimists) everywhere.
Is it actually possible for that sort of idyllic union to exist, though, when two separate individuals are involved, each bringing his or her own beliefs, attitudes, habits, and other little idiosyncrasies to the partnership... any (or all) of which can grate on the other person’s very last nerve? 
For a realist (okay, and something-of-a-pessimist) like myself, the answer is an unequivocal “no”; there's no eternal state of bliss, no truly happily-ever-after... just a vague hope that the good times might somehow outweigh the bad.
Because, oh, there are so many things that can go wrong--terribly, horribly, awfully, tragically wrong--as author Gillian Flynn brilliantly illustrates in her latest tour de force, Gone Girl.
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~
It should have been such a happy occasion for Nick and Amy Dunne--celebrating five years of being (more-or-less) happily married to each other. Granted, things could’ve been better, especially considering the recent spate of setbacks they’d had to face. From professional downsizing (which cost both of them their jobs), to coping with the night-and-day differences after leaving the excitement of New York City and moving to tiny North Carthage, Missouri (so they could care for Nick’s ailing parents), to dealing with mounting financial difficulties (and limited job prospects) in the seriously depressed small town, the couple were definitely going through some tough times. 
Still, if you were to ask almost anyone, he or she would say the Dunnes had a picture-perfect marriage, and the anniversary would be a joyous event. They were the beautiful couple--a gorgeous, brilliant, and charming wife, and a movie-star handsome, funny, and charismatic husband--that everyone wanted to be around... and everyone wanted to be
But, oh, how appearances can deceive. 
Nick goes home after checking in on the struggling bar he and his sister opened (with pretty much the last of Amy’s money), expecting to find his wife waiting, giddy with anticipation over the elaborate treasure hunt she devises for him each year on their anniversary. Instead, he walks into a nightmare... front door wide open, house in disarray... but no Amy.
In a daze, he calls the police. A thorough search of the premises and a lot of questions later, then the detectives end up grilling him for another several hours down at the police station. (Nick gets it--his wife is missing; it’s only natural to suspect him--but he just can’t believe it’s really happening.)
Making matters worse, he displays almost-shockingly inappropriate expressions, from showing next-to no emotion at the station (“I’m a stoic”, he defends himself), to the cheeky grin he delivers to the cameras a few days later during the televised news conference where he’s supposed to be making a heartbroken plea for his wife’s safe return.
Nor do his repeated claims of innocence fare any better once a history of deception has been revealed. Nick is clearly a man of secrets and lies... so how is anyone to trust what he says?
Perhaps the most-damning evidence of all, though, comes from the missing woman, herself: Amy’s diary (something Nick was completely in the dark about her keeping), which chronicles years of fear, worry, and unhappiness on her part... and a growing incidence of mental, emotional, and even physical abuse on his. Not even Amy’s doting (stifling) parents, who’ve been front and center in trying to find their only child--as well as supporting their son-in-law’s assertions of innocence--can bear to stand by Nick after the accusatory journal is found. 
With America ready to hang him out to dry--because everyone knows, of course, how the case of a beautiful missing wife and her handsome, less-than-entirely-honest husband plays out in the media--and the police clearly wanting to score a conviction, Nick finally bows to pressure and hires a pricey lawyer, one famous for specializing in the highest-profile cases of spousal... misadventure, shall we say.

As far as his new lawyer is concerned, what everyone else wants in this case is irrelevant, because he understands the most important thing: the public, the media, and the police can speculate all they like, but they have no proof, no promising trails to follow... and, most importantly, no body.
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~
Right now, I know you’re thinking Gone Girl sounds like a standard--maybe even a really good--murder mystery-slash-psychological thriller. You wouldn’t be wrong about that (and more on that in a minute)... but you also wouldn’t be even close to right, for any of the right reasons.
Here’s the thing; the plot, as laid out above? Covers only about one-third of the story. (Yes, you read that right.) Okay, then, you say, what about the rest of it? 
Ah, that’s where things get very, very interesting... and where Flynn’s brilliance as an author--and someone with keen psychological insights, an eye for detail, and an ear for the language of life--really shines. The remainder of the story, you see, concerns the hidden things to which we’re rarely privy--the really deep, truly dark, evil-nasty-despicable things--and it’s all of that which will totally change your mind about everything you thought you knew or understood here... again and again and again. Alternating between Nick's voice and Amy's, and going from past to present and back again, both sides of the story gradually emerge. The real kicker? We're never entirely sure just how truthful either party is being, about anything. 
Gone Girl is an incredibly-dark tale... one of the most believably-dark things I’ve ever read, in fact. With great finesse (not to mention, gorgeous prose, which ebbs and flows in the most mesmerizing, tantalizing fashion), Flynn masterfully paints the picture of two seemingly-likable people--who turn out to be not so likable at all, once the veneers of good looks and public affability are stripped away. Watching the pair manipulate each other--with such practiced ease, such considered carefulness--is truly chilling... as well as eerily relatable (at least, to someone who's been in a long-term relationship before).
I couldn’t wait to reach the end, so I’d know... but once there, I wished the story could just keep going on. (There can be no greater compliment, surely, than that.) 
Gone Girl... one of my absolute favorite books of the year, hands down.

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: ALL the Mousies

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tiny Bittersweet Symphony

(With smiles and tears...)

You made me laugh. You showed that kindness and grace have nothing to do with a fancy background... but everything to do with heart. You were curious about--and interested in--everything. You endured so much pain, so many disappoinments... yet you never lost your joy. 
You made me want to be a better “me”, to live up to you. :)

Happy Father's Day, Daddy. 
Your little girl still misses you. Every day.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Zombies 4EVR

While (not-so-valiantly) battling through one of those especially-nasty, lingering cold-and-flu thingies a few months ago, I thought--not for the first time--how awesome life would be if only someone were to finally come up with an effective cure for the accursed ailment... not another useless “remedy”, but something that would either stop the stupid virus in its tracks or plain render us immune.
And then I remembered the zombies... and promptly squashed my little daydream dead. (Hiking up my big-girl panties and toughing it out suddenly gained a whole lot of appeal, even if it meant "sleeping" upright on the sofa for three weeks straight.)
If you’re saying, “Wait... what?”, right now, hie yourself on over to these two reviews before reading any further:  here and here. Otherwise, it’s time for the thrilling conclusion to acclaimed sci-fi author Mira Grant’s zombie-riffic “Newsflesh” trilogy, Blackout
☠ ~ ☠ ~ ☠ ~ ☠  
When last we left the core group of “After the End Times” bloggers, they were on the run once again... this time, not only from scary, flesh-munching zombies (gulp!), but from a majorly pissed-off CDC, as well. (Breaking into a secure, highly-classified government facility--in the midst of the ongoing zombie outbreak--then causing all sorts of mayhem once inside, tends to make the government less than pleased with you. Eh, go figure.)
What choice do the intrepid bloggers have, though? They’ve already lost so many--from co-founder Georgia Mason, to fellow staffers Dave and Buffy--and so much--forced to vacate their headquarters after it was blown up, then having to go on the run, leaving any family any friends behind--and have been betrayed so many times, that going to whatever lengths necessary to find and report the truth isn’t "optional"... it’s basically a moral imperative.
But, oh, the changes that have taken place. No longer is this the same tight team that gleefully goes out on field work (read, zombie-hunting) or posts catchy, tell-all exposés. Georgia’s adopted brother Shaun--left without the anchor his sister had always provided him--is still riding the crazy train, spending more and more time talking to his dead sister’s memory (yep, not only does he see and hear her, but holds conversations aloud with her, as well), so Becks has taken over leadership from Shaun of the “Irwin” (poke-it-with-big-sticks-while-filming-and-try-not-to-get-eaten) branch. Maggie Garcia (of the richer-than-Croesus, Big Pharma family) is still in charge of the “Fictionals” branch in the wake of Buffy’s demise, and Mahir Gouda made the long trip over from London to take the reins of the “Newsies” after losing Georgia. 
Being in hiding and on the run, though, is putting a big-time crimp in their style; most of their blog posts (which we, once again, are privy to throughout the book) remain “unpublished”. From uncovering the most-massive conspiracy ever, to outsmarting crazy-mad scientists bent on doing who-knows-what, to making furtive trips all over the U.S. while trying to stay a half-step ahead of everyone who wants to shut them up for good, to evading hungry zombies at every turn (whew!), Shaun and company are in for the trip of their lives... and will have one helluva story to tell, if they can somehow live long enough to tell it.
☠ ~ ☠ ~ ☠ ~ ☠ 
I actually finished Blackout more than a week ago, and have been mulling it over ever since, trying to figure out what to say about it. (Always a little bit tricky when there are things you don’t want to/shouldn’t know for sure until it’s time for you to know them, as in this case.)
First, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series, and Blackout, to me, feels more or less like the ending it should have, so that’s good. The conspiracy--once the many layers have been peeled away--is at least as scary as the zombies are, which is also to the good. (It doesn’t take a news junkie to imagine that big government conspiracies are not only possible, but even probable, which lends this tale a chillingly-believable cautionary vibe.) And, of course, we still have (a lot of) the same characters, all of whom are well-drawn and interesting (if not always entirely likable); that’s another big plus. 
Unfortunately, though, I also had a couple of problems with this book. First, I think Blackout suffers from a little bloat (which isn’t something I’ve ever thought about either Mira Grant or her alter-ego, Seanan McGuire). In particular, there was just too much time spent on Shaun’s “craziness”; I know he's obsessed with Georgia’s memory and misses her (yada, yada), but I really could’ve done with a lot less of his annoying self-indulgence. (Yes, Shaun, you see and talk to dead people. Well, make that one dead person. Got it. Now, for the love of human-brain-craving zombie bears, move on, or at least shut up.)
My other problem is, well, something I can’t get into here... simply because it pertains to one of the major “surprises”. (In truth, it wasn’t actually much of a shock, but more of an “OMG, I hope it doesn’t turn out to be that... well, shoot, it did” kind of things.) Suffice it to say, you’ll know it when you get there... and you can form your own opinions (as you would anyway, right?). Let’s just leave it that this... revelation... was something of a disappointment, for me.
Still, as stated earlier, I definitely enjoyed this series--including Blackout. As a reader, it was a LOT of fun to go along for the ride... because what a ride it was. :)  
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  Mostly-Satisfied Mousies