Where to Begin…Gone Girl


August 16, 2016 by bradcharlesbeals

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

gone girl

This bestseller from 2014 is titled like it’s written: in quick, alliterative jabs. And the opening sentences set up the book’s sharp pace…

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily.

I’d know her head anywhere.

And what’s inside it. I think of that, too: her mind. Her brain, all those coils, and her thoughts shuttling through those coils like fast, frantic centipedes. Like a child, I picture opening her skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?

My eyes flipped open at exactly six a.m. This was no avian fluttering of the lashes, no gentle blink toward consciousness. The awakening was mechanical. A spooky ventriloquist-dummy click of the lids: The world is black and then, showtime! 6-0-0 the clock said – in my face, first thing I saw. 6-0-0. It felt different. I rarely woke at such a rounded time. I was a man of jagged risings: 8:43, 11:51, 9:26. My life was alarmless.

~from Gone Girl by Jillian Flynn

So what do short sentences do that standard-paced prose doesn’t?

They pull.

Like grabbing the tow rope at Mt. Holly when I was a kid–squeeze and I’m off!–reading sentences like these feels like I’m skiing. Fewer conjunctions and shorter logical sequences let me move through the writing like I’m in moguls.

But short sentences don’t hook by themselves. We’d be content with Dick and Jane if they did. They still require the same things that all good writing does. They need to surprise and delight and provoke and poke.

These sentences do all that.

Short sentences need a rest, too. There must be some change in pace for the fast pace to work. Like the comic scene in a tragedy, the longer sentence lets us breathe.

But even these shifts don’t slow it down. Look back at the middle paragraph, beginning with “And what’s inside it.” The language within — longer sentences and long fragments — is sandwiched between this short opener and a string of short questions. The paragraph itself sits between two staccato barrages. This is writing that keeps you just off balance. It’s friendly and funny. And then it’s very smart too. It invites you in and then it surges.

In just a few words, Flynn’s writing demonstrates a great sense of rhythm. It’s like a dance. An intricate, giddy dance. Something with energy. Swing maybe. Or Cha Cha.

I wonder now if she’s able to maintain that pace.

And I wonder what other strategies she has for not losing her grip on me.

One thought on “Where to Begin…Gone Girl

  1. […] No, these are not reviews, and No, I didn’t read Gone Girl. I just found something helpful for me on the first […]

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