Reese Witherspoon/Photo © Featureflash/Shutterstock
Gillian Flynn‘s post-modern crime novel, Gone Girl, was greeted with the critical equivalent of a standing ovation, highlighted by love letters from the New York Times’ Janet Maslin and Entertainment Weekly‘s Jeff Giles, who bestowed it with an A grade, an elusive honor usually reserved for literary lions working at the top of their game. Then, Flynn’s mystery, set within a marriage gone sour, shot to the top of bestseller lists. But one might argue that Gone Girl had not crested its rogue wave in the zeitgeist until comedian Patton Oswalt endorsed it with the following tweet: “I’m 50 pages into Gone Girl and it’s righteously creeping me out.”
And yesterday’s news that 20th Century Fox plunked down a whopping seven-figure sum to produce a film adaptation produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon has now officially erased any doubt that Gone Girl has officially arrived as the literary sensation of summer 2012. And it’s not as if Flynn (a former EW colleague of mine) didn’t have some stiff competition — both highbrow (Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, and Toni Morrison) and populist (John Grisham and Jennifer Weiner) — for readers’ attention.
So what is the secret ingredient that separated Gone Girl from this summer’s pack of critical and/or commercial successes? We’d be willing to wager that it has less to do with the novel’s clever plot twists, cracklingly original prose, or even its structural gambit in which the story unfolds from two incredibly unreliable narrators’ subjective points of view. Gone Girl resonates so deeply because of Flynn’s rare emotional intelligence combined with her of-the-moment subject matter that informs every page of her story of two thirty-somethings grappling with a double-dose of disillusionment at the shoddy state of their five-year-old marriage run aground on the post-infatuation shoals of boredom and selfishness. This is all happening in the wake of watching their careers vaporize after being laid off from newly extinct jobs writing for magazines. Does this resonate with anyone?
It also doesn’t hurt that Flynn delivers a portrait of a relationship fractured along familiar gender lines — men = lazy, forgetful, thoughtless, habit-bound, self-absorbed, consumed with ease over excellence; women = controlling, demanding, cold, angry, rigid, fault-finding, detached — while dodging the cliche and sentiment swamping this well-trod terrain. Put most simply, Gone Girl has attracted so much attention because it offers a startlingly clear and equally unflattering reflection of its core readership: disenfranchised Gen-X-ers suddenly adrift in relationships and careers that have fallen short of the always-fascinating media-saturated lives they were promised coming of age in the ’80s.
At this point, Gone Girl‘s adaptation remains unblemished by the kind of compromise its characters have so gracelessly endured. Reese Witherspoon is ideally cast as Amy, the novel’s Type A titular tigress. And we can only see it as a positive sign that Flynn has been enlisted to adapt her intricate cautionary tale of depraved domestic discord for the big screen. Equally crucial will be finding the right slightly oily man-child to play Nick, the handsome and inscrutable husband who seems vaguely capable of offing his wife. Our first choice for this would have to be Jude Law closely followed by Matt Damon, both of whom were brilliantly untrustworthy in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” We also love the idea of Maggie Gyllenhaal playing Nick’s devoted sister, Go.
Feel free to serve up your top choices for the actors you’d most like to see playing the major roles in Gone Girl. And while you’re at it, we’re even more interested in your nominations for the summer’s breakout book most deserving if a big movie deal.