In the last two weeks, nearly everywhere I go, people "“ at the bus stop, the nail parlor, hair dresser, one lawyer, one dentist, and two doctor's offices "“ ask me the same question. "Have you read Gone Girl?" they want to know.
This is not that unusual since I work for a publisher and talk about books a lot. What is interesting is that these same people, two weeks earlier, were asking me another question: Had I read Fifty Shades of Grey?
On the face of it, these two books seem to have nothing in common and I couldn't quite put my finger on why they both are so popular. The Fifty Shades trilogy by E.L. James is an erotic dance of a modern relationship. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is about a high-wired marriage with a dark side. All of a sudden, I couldn't shake the idea that there was an invisible visceral line between the two books. No wonder the books are vying weekly for the top spot on the best seller lists; I think they're appealing to many of the same readers.
Plenty has been written about Fifty Shades. Basically, it is about a man, Christian Grey, and a woman, Anastasia Steele, who are attracted to each other and make the kind of connection that seduces our prurient senses (or as Sara Nelson wrote recently, appeals to our naughty side). Now, look at Gone Girl. Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott are in a marriage that was once filled with sweet words but has now gone over to the dark side; still, both wife and husband continue to reach out in albeit strange (and fascinating and damaged) ways to connect with each other. Connection: could that be the key? In Fifty Shades and Gone Girl, each couple is struggling to get a partner's attention, and yes, make a connection. And in both, there's an underlying tension based on an erotic attraction. Each partner is striving for control and dominance and each occasionally gets his or her own way and changes the other. But no one is on top all the time. (Excuse the pun.)
It could be that connection, however dark and twisted, is the modern way of expressing true love. Today it takes a lot more than flowers and sweet nothings to get someone's attention. Having an argument and then making up is a recurring theme in every romance through the ages "“ and that's what happens in these books, except that these characters ratchet up the game. Readers are devouring these novels; they are recommending them to their friends. Fifty Shades of Grey and Gone Girl are appealing to the same reader.... they have a lot in common. Why? It's simple. They're both, at bottom (sorry), love stories. And who doesn't love a simple love story "“ especially if it's complicated?