(True to form, I am reviewing the “Book of the Summer” in December. Spoilers throughout.)
This is almost a textbook example of a book that is Not For Me.
Miserable people getting ever more miserable, with the most usages of “bitch” I have ever experienced in one work, concluding with the psychopath triumphantly playing her ace card, ensuring exponentially increased misery forever. Yuck.
For most of the book, my best-case scenario for the end would have been mutual destruction. Lock Amy and Nick into a room and let them kill each other, and the world will be a slightly better place once free of these two awful, toxic people.
Instead they (or, to be more accurate, Amy) threw a kid into the mix. A kid who will be kept completely hostage to Amy’s whims. I am convinced that Amy won’t hesitate to psychologically or physically torture, even kill, that boy according to how Nick displeases her, and that’s just too awful to contemplate. So at the very end of the book, my best-case scenario is actually a stillbirth, and I despise books that make me hope for a stillbirth as the best possible outcome.
If I want to read realistic stories about how fucking awful the world and people in it can be, I’ll read non-fiction or scroll through world news. This is not the stuff I want to spend my free time on. I have always embraced the idea of reading for escapism from the miseries of the world. I don’t demand uniformly happy endings — I like stories better for a sprinkling of realism, in fact — but I can do without stories as cynical as this one, thank you.
Even before you realize that Amy is a certifiable narcissistic psychopath, it was not a fun story. Even in her fake diary, they are such shallow, awful people — it’s a portrayal of the exact opposite of the kind of relationship I want. What with (her account, true) how they mock their friends’ “dancing monkey” spouses, and their attitudes toward their own bodies — you couldn’t imagine them growing old together.
I didn’t hate Nick, though I got very tired of the weight laid on Whether He Will Resist the Powerful Pull of Misogyny.
The part that came the closest to entertaining me was when she calls Desi (and what kind of name is that for a white boy?) to rescue her, and he shows her the rooms he’s had prepared for her for god-knows-how-long, and only offers her $40 when she pleads for cash (side note that that is EXACTLY the amount I predicted he would give her), and Amy starts to realize that maybe she’s in over her head and can’t control him after all. The ironic twist of her obsession with control, masterminding everything, had potential to be amusing. But then Amy solved the situation after all by being even more of a psychopath (now the cold-blooded killer type).
The most praise I can give is that it kept me hooked. God knows if it hadn’t been compellingly written, I would have tossed it back into the library’s return box early on, after one too many uses of “bitch.” The scene that got to me the most is when Amy’s two new “friends” corner her in her cabin and steal all her cash. The terrifyingly realistic way the theft happened is the stuff of nightmares to me. (But I have an anxious disposition that translates to the compulsive-worrier type when I travel — especially since I’ve been pickpocketed. I had to remind myself, after that scene, that I am unlikely to ever be in a situation where I am carrying all the money I have in the world in cash, because I am not a psychopath who would frame anyone for my murder.)
But I withheld judgment until the end. I understand that a book about misogynistic characters does not make the author (or the work) misogynistic. I think that Amy and Nick are so over-the-top awful that Flynn is not making a statement about women being “crazy bitches” who use rape accusations to seek petty revenge or at their convenience (though trust me, plenty of readers will use that to bolster their predisposition to believe so).
Despite how I admitted it was compelling, I’m still not sure if the writing was entirely solid. I kept having moments of “Are people actually saying this?” And it drove me crazy that Amy’s parents are child psychologists in NYC and they somehow ended up broke. Did they not work at all, apart from writing the Amy books? Also, of course, there was the ludicrous irony of child psychologists having the bad judgment to even publish a series of books based on their child.
Another appallingly awful moment that sums up the book’s appalling portrayal of people: Nick and his newfound friends, wielding baseball bats as they chase homeless/unemployed people through an abandoned mall. Yikes.
Would I recommend this book? No. Unless someone I knew was terribly down about being single. Then I’ll say, “Here, I have something that’ll cure that.” But then they’ll likely be terribly down about humanity, instead. So I’ll just recommend this “How to Be Alone” video instead, it’s much more uplifting.
Before I finished (or even started) the book, I was planning on seeing the movie, since it’s been getting rave reviews. Surprisingly — perhaps daftly — I’m still considering seeing it now. Maybe the director took a different angle on the story. I can see potential for entertainment if it’s played as an over-the-top black comedy — I like those. Like watching a spectacular, fictional train crash.