Sunday, July 29, 2012

Women Missing in Body and Mind

Do you remember the "Calgon, take me away" ads from the '70s?   Sometimes you just need to escape from your world for a little while.  For me, a great thriller is the best way to escape (although combining it with a Calgon moment doesn't sound like a bad idea!)  Here's where I've been hiding out recently.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn takes us into the lives of a young married couple, Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott.   The first section of the book--Boy Loses Girl--is told alternately from Nick's perspective in the present when he comes home and discovers his wife is missing and from Amy's perspective in the past through a journal in which she recounts her relationship with Nick.   We learn not only about the search for Amy but about the type of people Nick and Amy are.

Nick is an ordinary guy who grew up in North Carthage, Missouri, where he has moved with his wife to help his twin sister care for their dying mother.  Both he and his wife had been working in New York as magazine writers, but found themselves unemployed and at loose ends when the call came about Nick's mom.  Amy had a more exotic childhood as the daughter of the writers of the "Amazing Amy" series of books.  When she meets Nick, her parents have just published "Amazing Amy and the Big Day", which Amy says "[gives] their daughter's namesake what they can't give their daughter:  a husband."   Amy has not found the transition from New York to Missouri an easy one.  She tells us what a novelty she is there as Nick's mother introduces her as having been "born AND raised in New York City, at which point [her mother-in-law's friends] immediately suffer some strange Tourettesian episode:  They repeat the words--New York City!--with clasped hands and say something that defies response like, ''That must have been neat!'  Or, in reedy voices, they sing New York, New York, rocking side to side with tiny jazz hands."  Suffice it to say that the marriage is under a bit of stress.

I'm struggling to figure out what to tell you about this book without giving the plot away.   Going with the better safe than sorry approach, all I will say is that it is one amazing ride.  Nick and Amy's story has more twists and turns than any roller coaster you can imagine, and the book actually left me breathless as I read faster and faster to find out what was going to happen next.  It is as good as thrillers get--and I consider myself quite an aficianado in this regard.  Gone Girl is the third book by Gillian Flynn, and I can't wait to get my hands on Sharp Objects and Dark Places.  If they are half as good as Gone Girl, I'll be one happy reader.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson asks the question, "What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories?"  For Christine Lucas, the story's protagonist, the question is not a rhetorical one.  Christine suffers from a rare type of amnesia.  She has lost both most memories of her earlier life and the ability to retain new memories.  The only thing she can remember about who she is and the people around her is what she learns from the moment she wakes up until the moment she goes to sleep.   In the opening scene, Christine wakes up in an unfamiliar bedroom.  "A dressing gown hangs off the back of the closet door--suitable for a woman, but for one much older than I am....I am not alone.  I see an expanse of skin and dark hair, flecked with white.  A man.  He has his left arm outside the covers and there is a gold band on the third finger of the hand.  I suppress a groan.  So this one is not only old and gray, I think, but also married.  Not only have I screwed a married man, but I have done so in what I am guessing is his home, in the bed he must usually share with his wife..."  When Christine slips into the bathroom, she is stunned to look in the mirror and find a face and body that are 25 years older than she imagines.  She then sees the photographs taped to the mirror with labels.  "Ben, your husband."  "Christine."    Her screams wake up the man in the bed who calmly tells her that he is her husband, that they have been married for 22 years, and that she suffered head injuries in an accident that resulted in her amnesia.

The story takes off from there as Christine struggles--daily--to remember her life's experiences.  We find out that, unbeknownst to her husband, she is meeting with a neuropsychologist and that she has started keeping a journal to keep track of the things that she learns about herself.   Dr. Nash calls her each day to remind her about the journal so that she can retrieve it from its hiding place and read about her own life.

Before I Go to Sleep takes some interesting turns as we travel with Christine on her journey.  The story maintained my interest throughout although I did keep wondering why it was classified as a thriller.   As I reached the final chapters of the book, it came together in an extremely creepy (yet satisfying) way.

Both Gone Girl and Before I Go to Sleep will keep you guessing until the end.  If you enjoy a smart thriller, don't miss out on these two great reads.  Trust me--you won't be disappointed.  



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