Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Tournament of Books Semi-Final Round 2

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

Judged by Rachel Riederer who is an editor at Guernica and a writing teacher at Baruch College.

Well, I never expected the Sheila Heti book to get this far though Gone Girl is exactly where I expected it to be.
For me this round would normally be a forgone conclusion but as I said How Should a Person Be? is way further on than I ever expected so maybe I’ll be surprised!

Rachel felt differently as she had read both books last year and liked both of them. To her, she had a dilemma as she says below;
‘Each one totally consumed me and I recommended both to different people, and for different kinds of reading. How to choose? How Should a Person Be? follows the narrator/author Sheila through friendship, sex, art-making, and her anxiety about all of the above—it is a strange and brave hodgepodge of narration and transcription. Gone Girl is a methodically plotted mystery that alternates between husband-and-wife narrators: Nick telling the story of the days following his wife’s disappearance, and Amy’s diary describing their relationship until the day she turns up missing. Talking about them together is not even like comparing apples and oranges; it is like comparing sunglasses and ladders. They are both great, and when you want one the other is useless.’
She also felt both books were page turners.

So she decided to see how they both stood up to a second read.

‘Rereading Heti, I found myself freshly charmed by Margaux. As you might well expect from a book that calls itself a “novel from life” and has a title straight from the self-help section, it can get a little navel-gazey in there sometimes. And just when it’s getting to be too much, Margaux steps in to give voice to the eye-roll you were preparing. When the real-life person on whom Margaux is based decides to write her spinoff, I will buy all the copies.
But the whole book is not Margaux delivering calm takedowns to the self-satisfied, and I found myself craving more of her casualness and simplicity. I was not shocked or titillated by repeated blowjob references, I was not intrigued by the shifts in form and what they might mean.

With Gone Girl, I found that the absence of suspense let me slow down and notice enjoyable little details about the book that I’d missed when I’d gobbled it all down in my mania to find out what had happened to Amy. Most of all I appreciated the artistry of Amy’s diary and its trying-too-hard prose. It is bad! Which is to say, it is perfect for the diary of a character who writes magazine quizzes for a living. Reads one entry:
I’m walking along Seventh Avenue making a lunchtime contemplation of the sidewalk bodega bins—endless plastic containers of cantaloupe and honeydew and melon perched on ice like the day’s catch—and I could feel a man barnacling himself to my side as I sailed along, and I corner-eyed the intruder and realized who it was.
I found Amy’s bad writing really refreshing and fun—first-person narration in fiction is often so much more articulate and insightful than the character would actually be. Not every character in a novel is going to write and think with the dexterity of a novelist, and I love that Amy doesn’t.
I noticed and liked other details that I had slid past on my first plot-obsessed reading too: the recession-busted backdrop of abandoned malls and McMansions, Nick’s self-consciousness about being handsome, the couple’s shared unease about Amy’s money. There’s also a thread throughout the novel about the difference between how you seem to yourself and how you seem to even the people closest to you, and the challenge of not falling into predetermined roles.

Instead of trying to decide how a novel should be, I’m using art school rules and judging in favor of the book that accomplished all the goals it set for itself. I’m not 100 percent sure what Heti’s intentions were. Was she really going to tell us how to be? She made something new and fascinating, and she explored a big question. But I know for certain that Flynn’s intention was to captivate, thrill, and surprise, and Gone Girl does just that, perfectly.’

So what a surprise but I can’t fault her reasons for choosing the book.

Next up are the Zombie Rounds.

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