Every single person in The Dinner, Herman Koch’s 300-page bottle episode of a psychological thriller, is just the absolute worst.
Set in Amsterdam (the book is translated from its original Dutch), The Dinner is about two couples who go to a fancy dinner together to discuss a pressing matter involving their respective children. Paul Lohman, attending the evening’s festivities with his wife Claire, is a former teacher with a petulant attitude and an impatient streak, both of which he exercises freely against his brother Serge, who, along with his wife Babette, makes up the rest of the dinner party. Serge’s burgeoning candidacy for Netherlands prime minister is but one of many things about him that irks the shit out of Paul.
Gone Girl is like the Uber of popular fiction—it became huge very quickly, lives up to its hype and now serves as a linguistic benchmark for equivalent genre-defining success. Seems every new thing is the Uber of something now. Likewise, every best-seller whose plot is even vaguely mystery-adjacent seems now sagely tallied in the column “Gone Girl Afterglow,” a category of books defined by our apparent lingering fascination with sultry whodunits whose screenplay adaptations may or may not include brief glimpses of Ben Affleck’s penis.The Girl on the Train has, in short order, joined that column—it’s been at the top of the fiction lists for weeks. But in this case at least, the comparison is apt. Which is all a long-winded way of saying: If you liked Gone Girl, you will absolutely like The Girl on the Train.
In a recent NYT interview, Richard Price said of books he loved: “I didn’t read them; I snorted them,” which strikes me a great way to describe a page-turner. To be sure, I snorted TGOTT, just like I snorted Gone Girl. And TGOTT’s plot is similar: Every day from the window of her commuter train, Rachel catches a glimpse of “Jess and Jason,” a seemingly happy couple who live in a house not too far from the tracks. A down-on-her-luck alcoholic still mourning the end of her marriage, Rachel comes to emotionally rely on her J&J sightings, which is why she’s shocked one day to spot Jess kissing another man. When Jess goes missing a few days later, Rachel is determined to suss out the culprit, while also trying to remember what, if any, part in Jess’s disappearance she may have played herself.
People who have read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl tend to have opinions about Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. And I mean OPINIONS. Loved the first half, hated the second. Loved her, hated him. Can’t believe they cast Ben Affleck in the movie. And so on.
Personally, I was a fan. Flynn’s approach to the mystery genre was weird and interesting and unpredictable and sometimes uncomfortable. I can get down with that. Which is why I’d been looking forward to reading her first novel, Sharp Objects.
Sharp Objects homes in on the same creepy vibe as Gone Girl, centered on characters who seem just a touch shy of believable, but interesting all the same. The novel focuses on bottom-tier Chicago reporter Camille Preaker, who is assigned to write about a series of murders in her small hometown. Spending time at home is trouble for Camille, who must face her passive-aggressive hypochondriac mother, her 13-year-old half-sister (think Regina George meets Satan) and a slew of other characters from her not-so-great childhood. Truth be told, Camille is perhaps not entirely in her right mind, having recently spent some time in a mental institution.
Well guys, 2012 is drawing swiftly to a close and I have nothing to show for myself except a sweet new job and the collective knowledge of ~53 finished books (52.3 if I’m being honest about Les Mis, 58.3 if I count the Gone series and all three FSOG books). A productive year indeed.
Last week I posted the mathematically irrefutable Best Books of 2012, a labor on which I spent an undisclosed number of hours (like five) but after a little rest, relaxation, and weirdly mortifying perusal of my own ramblings from the last 12 months, I’d now like to share a more important list: the books I read this year that made the biggest impact on my little reality-TV-filled brain. Few of these titles were released in 2012, a byproduct of my resigned refusal to spend $27 on hardcovers, but sometimes it’s nice to read a book a few years after its release, when you can absorb it in the vacuum of irrelevance.
So here are the books that touched my shriveled-up heart this year, in dramatic countdown order. Happy reading!
On the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne goes missing. We’re talking front-door-wide-open, ironing-board-left-on missing. The police in Amy’s small Missouri town—where she’s moved reluctantly from New York to help care for her husband’s ailing misogynistic father—discover in their investigation of the house a haphazardly cleaned blood stain, curiously fabricated evidence of a struggle, and one seemingly unconcerned husband: the rather good-looking Nick Dunne. Nick is weirdly evasive, withholding information, glossing over details, even as he proclaims his innocence. He’s joined in the search for Amy by Amy’s parents, a nauseatingly happy couple who have made their living penning children’s books based on their daughter’s life; by Nick’s twin sister, Margo, who’s never gotten along with Amy; by neighbors, former stalkers, volunteers and suspicious acquaintances, any of whom could be the kidnapper, or killer, if only the evidence didn’t point so glaringly at Nick himself. But an emotionally crippled husband does not a murderer make. Right?
Over the last few weeks, Gone Girl just kept popping up in my field of vision, in that way engrossing beach reads seem to during the summer months. It’s already a national bestseller, and is being optioned for a movie. Amazon recommends it to me on a daily basis, and I’ve had no fewer than three people this month ask whether I’ve read it (second only to 50 Shades of Grey, which I get queried on weekly.) Which isn’t to say that I put up much resistance. One-third of the way through a Joyce Carol Oates book last week, I gazed longingly at my Kindle, where Gone Girl waited after being downloaded during an impulsive and possibly alcohol-fueled book-buying spree (because that’s the kind of boozy nerd I am.) Slowly paced and only vaguely engrossing family drama, or quick-and-easy murder mystery….I made my choice and I will own it.