Unforgiven: Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”


Kristin Devine

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar InMD says:

    This was a good essay Kristin thanks for sharing. I think forgiveness is probably the most important but least remarked upon aspects of successful relationships. Obviously people shouldn’t forgive to the point of jeopardizing life and limb but nothing lasts long if the participants can’t find a way to get passed pissing each other off once in awhile, including when its ‘over paper towels’ as my dad says.Report

  2. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I remember a mutual friend saying “I can’t believe she’s in the wrong here, Kristin, because she’s been kinder to me than my own family” and I couldn’t help but think “Is that NORMAL? Is it normal that a total stranger on the Internet would be nicer to you than your own family?”

    For the kind of people who exist in the modern world today? Who’ve moved away from everyone and everything they knew to chase the bright lights in the big city? Who’ve cut out all their family and any number of in-person acquaintances because they Voted For Trump or Held Problematic Views or were Alt-Right Adjacent? I can absolutely understand how people like this would consider strangers on the internet to be nicer than their own family, because they’ve let strangers on the internet redefine their conception of “nice”…Report

  3. Avatar veronica d says:

    As I read Gone Girl I completely recognized my former friend in the character of Amy Dunne. Amy Dunne represents an archetype of a person who actually exists, and thus it is not misogynistic to write someone like her. It can’t be misogyny if it’s REALITY.

    You have to be careful with this. After all, if I write a story about a shifty black guy who likes fried chicken and watermelon, I’m not going to save myself by pointing out that some small number of real life black people might act this way.

    Yeah, realism is an important foundation, but stories don’t exist in a vacuum, and authors/editors/audiences don’t make their decisions based on a pure attachment to truth. In other words, there is a reason that certain people might want to read about a shifty black fellow who likes fried chicken and watermelon. If I provide those people what they want — well I don’t get to pretend I didn’t know what I am doing.

    Likewise, tons of shitty men really really want some woman to stand up and say, “Yep, you were right about us. All your fears are justified.” A woman willing to do that will be rewarded.

    I worry about minority writers who want a quick path to validation. There will always be media space for the racist black guy and the homophobic gay dude and the misogynistic woman — not to mention the transphobic trans gal who will sell out her sisters. There is easy notoriety there.

    I’m not speaking about Gone Girl specifically, just — be careful with this notion.Report

    • I find this comment so completely and infuriatingly out of line that I am truly at a loss for words.Report

      • I realized upon cooling off that my comment was too open for misinterpretation.

        The reason this is profoundly irritating, Veronica, is that you have lectured me in the past (based on nothing other than your assumptions) about me supposedly favoring a too narrow swath of female representation (basically saying I only wanted to read about people I liked and could relate to) a charge that was patently untrue. So I really don’t appreciate you turning around and then telling me yet again I am on dangerous ground when I describe enjoying reading a female character that was very far from a likeable character. Seems a bit like damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

        I wrote a piece in which I go into detail about why it is very very necessary to portray a wide variety of women in fiction, including some who fall into categories that some would say are stereotypically bad here: https://ordinary-times.com/2019/07/21/defending-skyler-white/

        As for minorities I trust them to tell their own stories.Report

        • Avatar veronica d in reply to Kristin Devine says:

          I certainly want there to be a wide swath. That I agree with.

          As for minorities I trust them to tell their own stories.

          Me too!

          Some transgender history. If you read a trans autobiography written anytime before (more or less) 1990, you read one single story. It was the same story, hitting the same themes. It’s what audiences wanted. It’s what editors would publish.

          It was sorta-kinda true, for some people. It was also partly bullshit, tailored to what mainstream audiences were willing to hear. It systematically rejected any trans woman who wanted to tell a different story.

          That said, these were autobiographies written by real life trans women — carefully selected to tell the one story.

          Yes, trust minority voices, but which minorities do you hear from? Who get attention? Who gets published? What gets made into a movie? Based on what?

          This is part of my point: if you’re a minority writer, you will perhaps be writing for a majority audience. What will the majority audience reward?

          This is a systemic criticism. It’s about the process of selection and amplification.

          I don’t trust it.


          In a lot of ways, things are better now. We have the internet, and thus less gatekeeping. (Although, about that…)

          And yet, a big popular novel about an abusive woman just happens to be about false accusations, instead of about literally anything else a horrible narcissist might do.

          I don’t think that’s an accident. That’s all I’m saying.Report

          • I would like to float an idea here.

            As you would probably agree, there is a much greater body of literature/tv/movies/guidebooks/articles/magazine ads, etc etc etc targeted at cis women than transgender people. Exponentially greater. And the lion’s share of that is directed at promoting a certain vision of women as “the angel of the house”, a paragon of virtue, “true women”, “new women”, or any one of a wide array of archetypes meant to be sexually pleasing to men (like MPDG as we already discussed, the “cool chick” which Amy Dunne mocks in the pages of Gone Girl, and personally I class much of the “you go girl” stuff in this category even though YGG is supposedly empowering).

            There’s SO much of it all the time and it is all telling us “be this way, because if you aren’t this way you are lacking and failing and letting someone down!!” This tsunami of advice begins pretty much when we’re born and goes on til we keel over dead from an overdose of liver-spot-whitening pills.

            (btw I don’t say this to try to differentiate between cis and trans people, not at all, but on the whole I find queer people to be much more accepting of their personal foibles than cis women who tend to be very critical of themselves and set the bar very high, feeling like failures when they cannot accomplish the impossible)

            So against this flood of messages in how to be good, good, good in every arena (because cis women are told constantly they have to be not only good morally but perfectly skilled at everything and it seems like every day they make up some new thing we’re supposed to be good at like bento boxes or vajazzling or bokwa) a female character who is truly and unremorsefully operating for her own well being on her own agenda, feels kinda good. Even IF she goes in for some stuff that men just stereotypically HATE, and maybe a little bit because of that.

            Does that make any kind of sense?? A character like Amy Dunne is subversive because there are already 123,456,789 messages telling me to do better and be better coming from MYSELF – I mean I’m on the computer (selfish) didn’t take a shower yet (gross) drinking a Dr Pepper (unhealthy) neglecting my kids (bad mother) let alone from everyplace else, and it feels very liberating to read about a chick that has just ceased to give a sh— about it any more, even if I hate her. Especially so when I can look at that person and think “wow ok I knew someone exactly like that”.

            On the other hand, I can completely, completely imagine how if there was not a flood of representation, and the little representation there was, was all promoting a certain very narrow set of experiences as you’re describing, and then whammo, here comes some negative representation in fiction meant to confirm people’s worst misconceptions about you, I’m sure that would be just about infuriating. I can see that entirely.

            But I’m not at all sure those experiences are necessarily identical, and so I maintain that when it comes to female representation, we need a much wider array of female archetypes to push back against what is an overwhelming flood of either “be good” or “be sexy” and very little else, targeted towards people who are already quite prone to that kind of mindset to begin with.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        I’m sorry it comes across that way. Can I try to clarify?

        I’m very uncomfortable with saying, “It can’t be misogyny if it’s REALITY.”

        But I think it can. It can be, even if it’s 100% true. The reason is this: there are many stories one could tell about (for example) an abusive, narcissistic woman. Among those, choosing the one that matches the narrative of a particularly loud group of misogynists is risky. What motivates a writer to choose that narrative among so many? Why does an editor pick that story? A filmmaker? Etcetera.

        To be clear, this really is less about the author than “the industry.” Authors will mostly write whatever appeals to them. It’s editors who choose.

        Then there is what the public wants to hear, but yeah.

        This all becomes problematic when a rare occurrence is viewed as common, and a common occurrence is viewed as rare. Does Gone Girl do this?

        I don’t know, but I bet the answer is “It’s complicated.” I’m fairly sure both the author and publisher were aware of how this would play out. I’m quite sure they tell themselves they’re brave defenders of truth and the arts.

        Are they?

        Honestly, I don’t know. I really don’t. That said, I’m very mistrustful of “edgy” art, for all kinds of reasons. I feel like it’s too easy to go for the controversy and too hard for the socially powerless to counter bad narratives about them. I don’t trust writers or editors to really think this stuff through, nor is there any real accountability (other than pointless shouting matches on Twitter). A publisher could be a complete narcissist and they’d still get fat paychecks and invitations to posh parties.

        I’m not against “challenging” fiction. I certainly don’t believe that every story needs to be about flawless, anodyne goodies. And yet…

        I don’t trust them.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to veronica d says:

          “I’m very mistrustful of “edgy” art”

          welcome to the Republican Party, here’s your complimentary gun.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to veronica d says:

          yo hold up

          “This all becomes problematic when a rare occurrence is viewed as common, and a common occurrence is viewed as rare. Does Gone Girl do this? I don’t know…

          I added the emphasis because wow

          I had a whole post written out here but I think I’m just gonna let this quote stand on its own.Report

        • I understand your point. I understood it to begin with. I understood as I wrote the words that my statement could possibly be taken in that regard, but I liked the flow better as I had written it, and I felt it was clear as it was. I suppose I could have put in a few extra words to pin down beyond all point of possible misinterpretation what I was actually saying there, but I think it’s obvious to anyone willing to give it even the slightest bit of charity in terms of reading it. I’ll shove the words back in:

          “If a writer is attempting to represent reality in good faith for the purposes of creating a better story or 3 dimensional characters or to make a greater point, then it can’t be misogyny, even if some people choose to treat or interpret it as such.” I do not think Gillian Flynn’s intent was anything other than she said it is – to more fully represent a wide array of female characters instead of giving us a paragon of whatever female virtues happen to be culturally desirable at any given moment in time (which is how women have been portrayed in fiction since time began, and now just as much as ever), and neither she nor I should be held responsible for any sinister machinations of the publishing industry. We as artists cannot control what is published, all we can control is the work we create, and I applaud her for pushing back against the ubiquity of “you go girl” archetype which is just as exclusionary and limiting as the cult of domesticity ever was.

          As I’ve said repeatedly in other places, bad execution, even when ubiquitous, does not equate to an idea that is flawed on the face of it. People misuse Mary Sue. People misuse MPDG. People misuse female villains. It doesn’t mean that the very CONCEPT of them is therefore misuse and that everyone should then shy away from anything with even a whiff of these elements involved, because after all that is still a kind of characterisation, just that only one type of female character is then acceptable.

          People do certain things due to bad motives. Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that we then extrapolate bad motives to everyone doing a certain thing or a thing that looks vaguely similar, when others may have motives that are NOT bad. It doesn’t work (because you can’t police the world to that level anyway) and smacks of a kind of authoritarian, judgemental control over art the likes of which we rightfully criticize historically. like the Hays code.

          That having been said, the real issue here to me is that you might have brought this up to me a thousand different ways, but you chose to do that as some kind of unquestionable expert correcting an ignorant and woefully misguided person who was not able to understand the complexity of the issues involved. You might have said “something that occurs to me” or “A concern that I have” and I would have absolutely agreed with you and we could have compared notes on the needle that must be threaded between representing a wide variety of human archetypes vs. confirming the priors of jerks.

          But you chose tack in which you came off like you were tugging on my choke chain to issue a correction – a correction I did not deserve, because if you read the post I linked in my response, you will see I have some very well thought out reasons why I long to see more “bad girls” in fiction – and in a way that directly contradicted some other things you criticized me for in the past. That seems to me like you’re looking for any reason to criticize and correct me based on who I am as a person. I mean, surely the amount of time and thought I’ve put into all this, at some point, starts to render me a thoughtful person who has given these issues a good deal of intensive consideration and not someone who secretly loves to see women being portrayed as stereotypical harpies due to my internalized misogyny, right?

          This very well may just be one of those cases where Internet communication being what it is your intent was not as it appeared to me to be, but regardless maybe this sheds a little light on why I might have been upset by that comment (aside from other elements which I won’t even bother with).Report

          • Avatar veronica d in reply to Kristin Devine says:

            That having been said, the real issue here to me is that you might have brought this up to me a thousand different ways, but you chose to do that as some kind of unquestionable expert correcting an ignorant and woefully misguided person who was not able to understand the complexity of the issues involved.

            That’s a fair point, and you’re correct. I was speaking down to you. I get caught up thinking about ideas instead of people. It’s not fair to you. You deserve better.

            I’m sorry I spoke to you that way. I’ll do better in the future.Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Kristin Devine says:

            Assuming the movie stays true to the book I didn’t see Amy as representing a stereotype at all. This hetero dude actually found her kind of sympathetic (again the movie version, I didn’t read the book and all I have time to read these days is Dr. Seuss).

            She did everything right to get to the life, lifestyle, and marriage she wanted only to have her husband turn out to be less than he portrayed himself, and ultimately an unambitious cheating lout. Her actions, while horrible and wrong, were in a way understandable. She actually reminded me somewhat of a lot of the 2007-2011 law grads I know who ‘did everything right’ only to be denied what they thought they were working for by an unfair world. Again her actions weren’t justified but even as a man, not subject to the same kinds of social pressures women are, I recognized the impulse. The husband is of course sympathetic too, as the punishment he got was wildly disproportionate to the crime and continues to be escalated by an insane media uninterested in shades of gray. Anyway I thought it was an interesting story.

            I only bring this up to tell you not to be dissuaded by petty and stupid SJW criticism like you got above. Sadly the media environment especially online is crawling with people assuming they know the innermost thoughts and motivations of everyone, based on their own sad little set of stereotypes. And they’re shocked, just shocked, to find that people have their own minds and are capable of finding ways to relate (or not relate) that the trite, closed minded, and pathetic world of critical theory could never fathom.

            I mostly don’t share your taste in art, literature, film, etc. but I read your posts because often enough I find something relatable in there where I never thought I would. Keep it up.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David in reply to veronica d says:

      That is the biggist slab of tripe presented here in a while.

      Yes, people are only allowed to talk about what the few (carefully selected of course!) feel. Complete and utter BS. OT is much better than this.Report

  4. Avatar Susara Blommetjie says:

    Just want to say this was an absolutely awesome read. So much to think about and so much to enjoy. Thanks for writing.Report

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