So, the first of her novels I read was Gone Girl, about 6 months ago, well in advance of the movie’s release. I thought it was a page-turner, abundantly mean, interesting characters — Nick Flynn, who as we all know is accused of his wife’s murder (Amy Flynn, Amazing Amy) when she disappears, Amy herself, Amy’s parents, Nick’s sister Margo. All sorts of evidence keeps turning up that makes it look as though Nick (who’s a bit of a snob, a sexist, and a pig, as well as a bit of a drunk) probably murdered Amy and disappeared her body.
Won’t say anything more, ’cause maybe some of you haven’t read the book or seen the movie. BTW, I eagerly awaited the movie’s release, since I’d enjoyed the book and since David Fincher (of Fight Club, Seven and Panic Room, among others) directed, and Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike starred.
I next read Flynn’s Dark Places, or at least I started it — had to put it down about 70 pages in, because I found it just too grim (which is sort of a compliment, really). It’s about the survivor of a serial murder — Lily was a small child when her family was murdered, and she managed to hide in a closet. Her brother Ben is in prison for the murder, but she’s doubtful about whether or not he did it — but also strapped for cash and therefore willing to take money from a group of weirdos obsessed with the murder for making a speech and answering questions, for handing over family pictures and other artifacts. Yuck.
Just too grim, but I picked it up and finished soon. In her acknowledgments, Flynn thanks her husband, whom (she notes) still sleeps with her every night “even though he knows how my mind works.” Funny, in an arch and somewhat mournful way, huh?
A couple of weeks ago my friend Sam passed on Flynn’s Sharp Objects to me, and it’s my favorite of the three Flynn novels — it’s protagonist and narrator, Camille Preaker, is a reporter in Chicago. Her editor assigns her to go back to her hometown, Wind Gap, Missouri, and rustle up a story on the murders of two young girls there. Stephen King, known for his generous book jacket blurbs and forewords, says that he “dreaded” the book’s final 30 pages but couldn’t stop turning them. He notes that afterward, the book “coiled in my mind like a snake.” Exactly. Camille Preaker is in just about every significant way a mess, and returning to her hometown and her mother’s house to investigate the murders doesn’t mitigate her unhappiness one bit.
Recommend all three books and the Gone Girl movie. Hope someone decides to make a movie of Sharp Objects. Camille’s mom, Adora, would be a great role — Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, are you listening?
Does it sometimes seem as if Mark Ruffalo is in every movie? Well, he has done 30 movies in the past 10 years, according to Internet Movie Database (imdb.com). But I like him, it seems as if he’s always good, he gets award nominations, and he’s especially good in last year’s Begin Again, a movie also starring Keira Knightley, about music and written\directed by John Carney, who wrote and directed Once.
Knightley plays Greta, an aspiring singer\songwriter, and Ruffalo plays Dan, a “de-frocked” record company executive and music producer. He’s “de-frocked” because he’s a drunk, and he’s mis-behaved his way out of a job and a marriage (Hallie Steinfeld plays his daughter, and Catherine Keener is his ex-wife). Greta is from England, and she’s 90% out of a relationship to the musician who’s come with her to New York (played by Adam Levine, the frontman for Maroon 5).
“Begin Again” might be a musical instruction — to start over and play the piece one more time from the beginning. But of course it has more global connotations related to relationships and starting over, and so it is here. There’s a magical scene early in the movie in which Greta is performing in a bar, and Dan is in the audience. She’s clearly not a polished performer and is a little tentative, but as Dan watches you can see him come alive — he’s taken with the strength of the song, and she (being Keira Knightley) is truly quite beautiful. As he watches, suddenly there’s a drumkit and drummer behind her, then a bass player, then a violinist. At first I was confused — is this really happening?– but quickly I realized that Dan, being a music producer, is mentally supplying the song with the other instruments it needs for a realized production. As in Once, Carney is interested in how music works, how a song is composed and put together, and shows us just how that might be done with Greta’s song.
If you’ve seen a few movies, you can easily see where this is going — Dan and Greta “meet cute” (as the expression goes), experience a little conflict, but ultimately agree to work together, recording her songs in a number of New York City locations. Dan rustles up backup musicians (including his daughter Violet, who surprises him by requesting to play guitar on a song, a skill he, absentee dad that he is, doesn’t realize she has.
Thoroughly charming, and Knightley can really sing — as I noted, she’s a little tentative in that early song, but she gets better, becomes more assured as she goes on.
So both Greta and Dan get to begin again.
I’ve been reading and very much enjoying Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, recommended to me by Jesse Kornbluth, who provides a service called Head Butler (headbutler.com), where he makes weekly recommendations of books, movies, music, and occasionally products ranging from hair dryers to stereos.
Maugham’s book is about the 1920’s, mostly in Europe, a period that’s been interesting me more and more in the last year, which puts me in range of the cultural zeitgeist (another movie version of The Great Gatsby was out recently). It started when Head Butler sent me Harold J. Arlen’s Exiles and Amanda Vaill’s Everybody Was So Young. The latter is a brilliant book, about American expatriates in Europe in the 1920’s, especially Gerald and Sara Murphy, the prototypes for Dick and Nichole Diver in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book Tender Is the Night (which I read for the first time actually in Paris in 1972 and reread last summer).
When I mentioned The Razor’s Edge to my friend Doug at lunch yesterday, he noted that it was the film that almost sunk Bill Murray’s career — he was in a weak and not-so-popular remake of it in the 90’s (it was made in 1946 starring Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney). I can’t remember if I ever saw it — hardly a recommendation if I did.
The novel is about equally divided among Elliott Templeton, his cousin Isabel, and her temporary fiance Larry Darrell. Elliott is a socialite, a guy who gives great parties, flies from Paris to London when he needs new suits, and would rather die than miss a party where “important” people in society will show up. I don’t find him very likable, but he’s amazingly generous to his friends. Isabel is a Mid-Western girl trying to find herself in life, and when Larry and she break up, marries stockbroker Gray Maturin (who manages to lost just about everything in the Crash of 1929.
Larry Darrell is a seeker, something of a mystic, a 1920’s prototype of the hippies we’re more familiar with from the 1960’s. He has a small income and no inclination to work, instead reading books, studying languages, traveling to India, etc.
Pretty sure I read The Razor’s Edge when I was in college, don’t much remember doing it, but glad to re-discover it and enjoy how well-written and entertaining it is, even though there have been times I wanted to reach into the pages and slap Larry, or slap Elliott.