Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dark Hearts

Book Reviewed: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

This summer, Gone Girl was THE book to read.  Every website, newspaper, and book critic threw praise at Flynn's domestic mystery novel, making it impossible to escape.  After hearing a lot of people I trust tell me it was worth the praise, I finally started it in August.  And just finished it yesterday.  I know.  School got in the way, as did work and book club and a million other things.  But the real reason I didn't finish Gone Girl was because I kind of didn't want it to end.  I wanted to just stay inside it for as long as I could while never actually committing to the bizarre plot twist it took halfway through.

It's hard to talk about Gone Girl without giving anything away, so this might be a short review.  It's a great book: dark and mean and incredibly involving.  Flynn hooks you right away with her charming (bordering on lulling at times) writing style and two characters who are full and complex but also feel like people you've known your whole life.  Nick Dunne and his wife, Amy, seem like a couple I might consider friends, but as things in their lives unravel and their true sides show, they become the last people in the world you'd want to actually know.  The book's first half revolves around Amy's disappearance on the Dunnes' fifth anniversary.  Each chapter is told from either Nick's perspective from the day of the disappearance onward or from Amy's perspective through a diary that begins with the day she met Nick seven years earlier.  Then the book takes a dark little turn halfway through and goes to a place I was not expecting at all.  I am not easily fooled by narratives.  I've been reading books and watching TV for far too long not to see endings coming from a mile away.  But I was not expecting anything that happens in the last 200 pages or so of Gone Girl.  Not even a little bit. 

Gone Girl is not a comforting read, although I found Flynn's casual but tight style to be quite wonderful and involving.  I do recommend it, though, if only for the roller coaster ride that is the plot.  I also think Nick Dunne might be my favorite character I've encountered in literature in months.  He is so similar to the actual Midwestern men I've known my entire life that I felt all his strengths and weaknesses (of which there are many) right in my gut.  In fact, this book makes an interesting litmus test for how a reader might feel about the East Coast versus the Midwest.  In the first 200 pages, who do you find more interesting: Amy or Nick?  Answering that question eventually becomes problematic, but at first, I thought Flynn was creating one of the best books about regional perspectives that I've ever read.  There's a lot going on in this book, and the idea of where we come from - place, family, past experiences - is maybe the most important trait of the entire story.

So if you have a chance to read Gone Girl, please do.  And if you can avoid spoilers beforehand, please do.  This story is best told fresh and without any expectations, so that you can't be disappointed.  I can't say I loved this book completely (as I said, the weird twist almost got too weird for me), but I'd go out on a limb and say it's the most fascinating book I've read all year.  There's no way this one's not making my Top Ten list for 2012. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lindsey Buckingham, Genius

Book Reviewed: Tusk, by Rob Trucks (vol. 77 of the 33 1/3 series)

I love Fleetwood Mac.  I mean, I really love Fleetwood Mac.  When I was a kid, I remember watching The Dance tour live on TV and wanting to know more about this strange band with its apparent romantic entanglements, the self-mythos they scattered around themselves on stage.  As I got older, I learned to appreciate the music for how pretty but robust it was.  I listened to Rumours and thought I understood Fleetwood Mac as a band interested in melody first and last.  But then I really listened to the song "Tusk" and realized I didn't know this band at all.  Have you listened to "Tusk" lately?  It's an incredibly weird little song.  And it comes from an even weirder album.

When I saw that the 33 1/3 series, a brilliant little series of short books about famous or influential albums written by writers who aren't necessarily music journalists, had a volume on Tusk, I decided I had to read it.  It made a nice antidote to the heavy poetry and theoretical lit stuff I have to read for school.  Instead, it let me bask in the glow that is a mishmashed band making mishmashed music.  Trucks's central premise is that Lindsey Buckingham is the real genius behind Fleetwood Mac and that Tusk is Buckingham's album more than a regular Fleetwood album.  I don't think he's going to meet a lot of criticism on that point, although I might be biased.  Buckingham isn't just my favorite member of Fleetwood Mac, he's one of my favorite rock stars period.  (Note:  If you have never heard the 1997 live version of "Big Love," then you are not a real person.  That specific version of that song has been firmly in my Top 5 Favorite Songs of All Time list for years now).

Trucks admits from the book's first page that a hardcore fan of either Fleetwood Mac or the Tusk album will probably be disappointed by his presentation here.  Trucks uses moments from his own life as a framework for his feelings toward Buckingham, the band, and the album.  I have to admit that while I sometimes enjoyed Trucks's asides, I had a rather difficult time connecting them to the narrative at large (the narrative being that Tusk is secretly a stroke of genius and that the genius is all Buckingham's to own).  Sometimes, things would just start getting interesting and then Trucks would break in and ruin the moment a bit.  For that reason, I tended to most enjoy the "What We Talk About When We Talk About Tusk" chapters, in which other musicians (including a student from the USC marching band that played along on the original recording of the song "Tusk") talk about the album and the band.  It's cool to see how many people the band has influenced over the years, particularly Buckingham.  Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner in particular said something that made me think about Buckingham in an all-new way:

Lindsey Buckinham has a way of putting together a song that's kind of heartbreaking...I think [his strength] is this unquantifiable way of delivering the melody and the words at the same time, so somehow the delivery and the timbre and the tonality of the voice and the way the notes are shaped and the way they break off, like in 'The Ledge,' you know, it sounds kind of fragile.  And then he kind of pulls it back together.  And these events just happen in microseconds.  That's something that not a lot of performers have.

So while Tusk didn't always deliver the way I wanted it to, mainly due to Trucks's frequent diversions, I admit it made me appreciate Fleetwood Mac and their strangest album in a whole new way.  And it reconfirmed my admiration of Lindsey Buckingham's contributions to one of my favorite bands. 

Note:  I know you're wondering what my 5 favorite Fleetwood Mac songs are.  Here they are, folks: "Big Love," "Tusk," "Rhiannon," "Dreams," "The Ledge."