thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Where Has the Girl Gone?: Post-Recession Marriage in Gone Girl

In Uncategorized on October 10, 2014 at 7:42 am

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Sarah S.

This post discusses plot points from both the book and the movie versions of Gone Girl. The filmmakers made a very close adaptation of the novel so the primary difference comes from the lack of nuance and character development that tends to be inevitable in book-to-film adaptations.

It also contains SPOILERS, so if you have managed to not learn THE TWIST, and you care to remain in the dark, do not read further. You have been forewarned.

I read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl in a binge between 4 pm Saturday and 8pm Sunday last weekend. I saw the film adaptation—directed by David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike—on a sunny autumn afternoon last Wednesday. I suddenly felt caught up in one those micro-tornadoes of chitter-chatter swirling through the zeitgeist.

But what makes this book and, more so, its film version such a teapot tempest right now? It enjoys a decent but not overwhelming 87% fresh score on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. Two friends on Facebook logged complaints about female representation while declaring themselves Fincher-fans. But another declared it the “worst movie [he's] seen since The Social Network,” leading me to wonder if reactions were breaking on the Fincher love-hate axis. (And here I expected to be debating the merits of everybody’s least-favorite Batman.) But it’s obviously more than that.

I think that at least some of the reactions to Gone Girl have to do with its allegorical nature. It’s a tale of the Great Recession and its effects on America’s iconographic “best and brightest”: the Midwestern bootstrap-boy and the complicated, mesmerizing girl. Moreover, it does not just focus on these characters but attempts to say something about what they mean individually and as a metaphorical representation of middle class, American marriage. The book even stages this conceit with section breaks subverting romantic comedy plot points—”Boy Loses Girl,” “Boy Meets Girl,” and “Boy Gets Girl Back (or Vice Versa).”

Hit the Books: Five Feminist Novels to Read Posthaste

In books, class, feminism, race, social justice, violence on October 3, 2014 at 6:32 am

Girls Like Giants contributors put our heads together to recommend a few of the best books we’ve read in recent times. What’s on your reading list?

Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie’s searing portrait of life before, during, and after the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), follows the narratives of three radically different characters—the beautiful and upper class Olanna, the houseboy turned child soldier Ugwu, and the white British expat and journalist Richard. There is neither a singular narrator nor narrative but rather a switching back and forth between these characters’ various perspectives, a literary move which heeds her call for the necessity of multiple narratives. As a result, we witness the war and its attendant violence from the perspective of each character. For instance, we see rape as a tool of war twice: once in a threat made against Olanna by a soldier and then in Ugwu’s own horrific participation—after he is conscripted into the army—in a gang rape of a young bartender. In Adichie’s novel there is neither safety nor cover from the casual and everyday violence of warf. And there is no simple resolution to its lasting its scars as it reaches into the depths of our lives. Before the war, there was happiness, fun, and radical politics—the latter embraced and touted by Olanna’s husband, a university professor. Yet, as Adichie makes clear, embracing revolutionary politics is far afield from the masculinized violence and terror of war. Her powerful critique reinforces the fact that there are no winners amidst this violence and that the independence sought is sadly never gained, even as lives are lost and irreversibly changed. I can’t recommend this book enough. From Adichie’s eloquent writing to her formal innovation and political critique, Half of a Yellow Sun is by far the most beautiful, difficult, and empathetic novel I’ve read in a long time. - Phoebe B.

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

In the last couple years I have read several excellent books. Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane delighted me and creeped me out in equal measure. Booker Prize winner The Luminaries, by wunderkind Eleanor Catton, brought magical realism to a sweeping historical western set among whores, charlatans, and opium peddlers in a New Zealand mining town. But without hesitation, the best book I’ve read recently is Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. This mysterious novel reminds me of the modernist works I love, with a dash of postmodern instability and feminist exploration thrown in for ballast. It focuses on the many lives of Ursula Todd, a person with the gift (or curse) of constantly rebooting back to birth whenever she dies. We follow Ursula through several noteworthy historical happenings, from the Great War and the contemporaneous influenza pandemic to the Blitz in London during World War II. We also see different iterations of Ursula, a person changed ever so evocatively by the various things that happen to her and then alter the trajectory of her life. I won’t give away any more twists or turns but just urge you to snatch up a copy of Life After Life as soon as possible. It’s smart and entertaining and absolutely ideal for delving into during blustery autumn weather. - Sarah S.

The Downside of Being Good: Paris, Rory and “Gilmore Girls”

In feminism, gender, girl culture, teen soaps, TV, YA on September 25, 2014 at 11:24 am

Sarah Todd

Paris Geller scares people. It’s a beautiful thing. As a teen prep-school Napoleon taking the quirky citizens of Gilmore Girls by storm, she intimidates parents, students and teachers alike. At a debate meet, she engages in psychological warfare to freak out the competition. Her silent scowl is enough to persuade her opponent to change his call in a coin toss before the silver lands. She throws a literary bad boy off his game by dismissing the Beats as self-indulgent jerks. She makes her guidance counselor cry. When a suitor goes Casper on her after he heads off to Princeton, do you suppose that Paris weeps? Does she create a complex flowchart to determine whether some stray remark or unflattering hairstyle has driven him away? She most certainly does not. She simply jots his name down in her revenge notebook.

As a girl too focused on achieving world domination to stop and worry about what other people think of her, Paris is an honors graduate of the Amy Poehler “I don’t care if you like it” school of thought. It is this quality that makes her the perfect foil for her classmate Rory Gilmore, who appears–at least outwardly–to be the ultimate good girl.

While Rory is undeniably charming, I’ve long been annoyed by the way Gilmore Girls insists on having other characters go out of their way to tell her so. Teenage boys fall for her on sight, from a high school Don Juan (Tristan) to the aforementioned literary bad boy (Jess) to a sweet-and-steady jock (Dean). Rory almost always has at least two boyfriends, one current and one would-be, and it’s a safe bet that they’ll resort to fisticuffs over her at one dance-a-thon or another.

Not only does Rory invariably set hearts fluttering, she also wins steady praise for her intelligence. A teacher commends her for honing a school newspaper article about a repaved parking into “a bittersweet piece on how everybody and everything eventually becomes obsolete.” And the reading! Characters are constantly tripping over themselves to remark upon her book intake. (“Aren’t we hooked on Phonics,” a suitor observes upon entering her room for the first time—a hilarious line, since the only books visible in that particular shot are on two small, perfectly standard shelves above her desk.)

Rory’s mother Lorelai is particularly invested in the Rory-is-magic narrative, as Anne K. Burke Erickson notes in her essay on the show. Having gotten pregnant with Rory at age 16, Lorelai desperately needs to believe that Rory is a younger version of herself who can have the future she never did. As a result she’s constantly praising Rory for virtues large and small. “Rory’s never late,” she notes. “She’s almost annoyingly on-time.”

It’s a lot to handle.

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