It’s not particularly novel or cutting-edge to depict the dangers of marriage in popular culture. It’s actually a service to society that the prevalence of domestic violence is brought to light. Sadly they have a lot of material to work from. To honor the release of the film Gone Girl, which I hope is infinitely better than the novel, I am going to feature two thrillers that are working within this genre.
There is a spoiler so skip over the next paragraph if you want to wait. Actually, the whole post is a spoiler. Stop here please if you want to wait. Seriously.
I’ll get to the critique right off the bat. The sad reality is that bullies on the playground sometimes grow up to be weak men who push around their wives. But as soon as a writer creates a character like Amy who pushes back, she is of course absolutely crazy. I’m not denying that she is, just that real-life women who are trying to leave emotionally and verbally abusive relationships are not one or the other, a weakling or a psychopath. Adultery and never growing up are forms of emotional abuse in my books, Amy just goes way out of line for her just desserts. The useful lesson from Gillian Flynn’s best-seller is to bring attention to the fact that women are not the only victims. There is a reason why it’s called “spousal” abuse.
Another fighter is Christine in SJ Watson’s “Before I go to sleep.” I read this book when we first moved to Massachusetts, in an empty condo with a sleeping child and my husband at work. It scared the living daylights out of me to say the least. Silence is not your best friend in these situations. Christine is desperately trying to piece together her life after a horrific accident where she suffered severe memory loss. Each morning she wakes up and cannot reclaim her short-term memory. This results in her husband being a stranger and her telling herself that she is in love with him. I’m not going to give much else away because it’s just too good to spoil. Lets just say that something is not quite right and you too will be as desperate as her to figure out the “truth”.
Both novels also address the power of memory and how it’s very much shaped by context. If you lost all those fragments tomorrow and had to rely on other people telling you the significance, just imagine how meaningless it would become. It also reminds us how much we mediate on what we remember and change it. There is no absolute truth and that’s what creates such a chasm between Amy, Christine and their sleaze bags husbands. I think this is a great lesson here on how unhappy you can become if you put so much weight on making memories and capturing the happiness. Sure, joy is meaningless when it’s not shared but being able to live for yourself would also make your life more sane and manageable. Amy’s problem is that she is clueless to her own flaws. Nick not remembering some random outing does not a thoughtless bastard make. Probably gives some perspective to our own idiosyncrasies non? To try to see the forest for the trees?