Monday, July 22, 2013

Gone, Gone, Gone

He's Gone by Deb Caletti
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I ran into my friend, Cari, on the way to my mailbox my last week of school (my last official week as a high school English teacher) and in her hands she held the book, He's Gone by Deb Caletti.  I asked, "What do you think of that book?  Deb Caletti wrote this really great message response to a girl who posted about her YA novel The Nature of Jade on  I was impressed that she took the time to respond to the National Writing Contest post. She seems like a great person."
Cari looked at me and hugged the book, "Well, Deb is making me love her with this book.  I can't stop reading it.  It's so good."
I was intrigued and happy that I immediately recognized the name.  I went home and purchased He's Gone which is Deb Caletti's first Adult novel.  Her YA novels have received critical acclaim.  I can picture my student, Elizabeth reading Honey, Baby, Sweetheart with the National Book Award finalist silver seal on the front.
My friend, Cari was right (as she usually is about books).  She and I have an affinity for books with magical writing - not just a straight plot driven blockbuster, but stories that have beautiful characters, that feel real, believable and make us think.
He's Gone starts with Dani waking up and realizing her husband, Ian, is missing but his car is still parked outside.  The following pages weave together a narrative of Dani's first marriage, her marriage with Ian, her relationship with her step children, her own daughter, her mother, and herself.  Caletti quietly draws her reader's attention to the intricate balance of infidelity, abusive marriages, what we can and can't tolerate of ourselves and others and she makes it all believable.  It's the first book that I stayed up until 2am to finish in years because I needed to see what happened to Ian, and what would happen to Dani.  I read it in two days and didn't want to do anything but read Dani's thoughts about life and love, self esteem, loss of self, loss of love, and ultimately a search for herself as she searched for her missing husband.   I believed Caletti's characters.  I believed in Dani's narrative, her internal dialogue of truth and questions about happiness and marriage, feeling trapped and free, feeling like the butterflies preserved in Ian's office.
I love knowing what a good person Caletti is, too.  That her writing fame hasn't made her unapproachable or too busy to respond to a teenager who identified with a character in her YA novel, The Summer of Jade.
Since reading He's Gone, I have recommended it to everyone that asks, "What's a good book to read this summer?"

After reading He's Gone, I did some research on best books of summer 2012 and requested last summer's big blockbuster novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn from my local library.  It had great reviews and Gillian Flynn is considered "one of the hottest writers around" based on the book jacket description.  Gone Girl follows the dual narrative of Nick and Amy.  On their 5th anniversary Nick gets a frantic call from a neighbor who alerts Nick that the front door of his home in a half deserted Missouri neighborhood is hanging wide open.  Nick goes home to find an iron on (which Amy would never do), a table smashed and an ottoman overturned.  Amy has vanished and Nick is left to pick up the pieces of what happened to Amy.
It felt similar at first to Caletti's narrative, but twists and turns ensue to make Gone Girl almost maniacally farcical by the end.  I LOVED the first half of the book, but somewhere around page 225, I started to lose interest.  It all got to be too much - so much hate, so much psychosis, so much manipulation.  I stopped believing or caring about any of the characters and wanted to just get to the end which in my mind was ridiculous.  Where Caletti was able to resolve her plot twists gracefully, Flynn resolved hers in a twisted, almost uncomfortable way.  At the end of Gone Girl, I announced to my husband, "I didn't like it.  I wanted to like it.  I liked it in the beginning but by the end, I wanted it to be over."  I didn't feel like that with He's Gone. Because Gone Girl received so much high praise and was considered the book to read last summer, I really thought I was in for a literary experience.  Instead, I encountered an empty experience which made me lose my reading mojo for a few days to recover from the silly ending of this book.

So . . . if you are looking for a book about a missing spouse that uncovers the truths about marriage, love, infidelity, abuse, longing, and life, choose He's Gone by Deb Caletti.  If you want something a bit more sinister and slightly ridiculous, choose Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

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