The full magnitude of Gillian Flynn's brand hit me today in an unexpected way.
I don't think it's particularly insightful of me to say that this industry is completely, utterly, insanely gaga over Gillian Flynn and Gone Girl. This is America, after all, and we don't tend to focus on anyone or anything for too long. But Gillian just keeps going...
First, I noted during an out-of-state trip to a Barnes & Noble that there was an entire bookshelf, floor to ceiling and of the usual bookcase width, devoted solely to Gillian Flynn and her three novels. No such Stephen King shelf; no such Charles Dickens shelf; no such William Shakespeare shelf. Yes, Gillian Flynn now has a much larger presence in bookstores than any other living (or dead) writer.
Second, I note that somehow, for reasons understood only by God, our entire effing industry is obsessed with finding or creating "the next Gone Girl." Every agent, every writer, every publisher--that's all they want: "the next Gone Girl." For God's sake, the book was good, but how it gave rise to this phenomenon is a study in social mania that somebody should do a Ph.D. thesis on. And yet, it seems to work--The Girl on the Train (a much inferior book) managed to position itself as "the next Gone Girl," so I suppose we are all now looking for the "next, next Gone Girl."
Third, I stopped counting the number of books described on Amazon as "in the tradition of Gillian Flynn" or "for those who love Gillian Flynn." I'm not sure how someone who's published three books, only one of which was a major success upon publication, has established a "tradition." And is GF the type of writer who inspires LOVE--the writer whom young writers-in-training write in their journals about, who touch lives and inspire literary output?
But the corker was today, when I picked up the latest book by Joyce Carol Oates, The Sacrifice, and saw the following blurb on the back cover: "Joyce Carol Oates ... is simply the most consistently inventive, brilliant, curious, and creative writer going, as far as I'm concerned ... She is a genuine, sharp chronicler of our times with a remarkable ability to sway from keen modernity to complete Gothic. I love her writing because I never know what I'm going to get, but I know it will be unique and big-voiced." Yes, that blurb is by Gillian Flynn.
Call me a snob, but is this a joke? Gillian Flynn blurbs Joyce Carol Oates? I mean, come on. Gillian Flynn is a very good writer (the Valley-Girlish tone of her blurb above notwithstanding) who wrote one good and two very good books. Joyce Carol Oates has a career that's spanned four decades, major literary prizes, and a Princeton University appointment. Have we as an industry been reduced to using Gillian Flynn to sell Joyce Carol Oates books? Is our next step to have J.K. Rowling blurbing the complete works of William Shakespeare: "Truly, Shakespeare's work is magnificent ... he is not only a poet, but also a supreme dramatist. His impact on the literary world has been vast, and each time I read A Midsummer Night's Dream, I am reminded of what good comedy is all about."
I really must, must know what JCO thinks about this blurb. How can I find out? If anyone knows, please write and tell me.
So ... yes, this post is a little bitchy, BUT: I can say that I am only two degrees of separation from Ms. Flynn. I don't know her, but I know someone who does (quite well), and all reports say that she is a delightful and lovely person. It's nice when nice and talented people achieve mega-success; it happens rarely enough to be remarkable, so I have to go on record as saying that I'm glad for the success of Gone Girl even if I think it's way too much ado about a book that's just good entertainment.
Also, I think the whole Gillian Flynn phenomenon has been good for our industry. Savvy writers, I'm sure, are querying agents, positioning themselves as "the next Gillian Flynn," and agents are sure taking on those new clients, then positioning the books to editors like me as "the next Gone Girl." GG provides proof that you CAN make money in publishing, as tough as that often is. It's a Cinderella tale come true, and that's a pleasant thing, too.
I just wish that our industry could be more forward-thinking and brave, instead of endlessly trying to rehash a book published three years ago. And, with Harper Lee's "new" book coming tomorrow, I have to wonder if poor GF is sitting there at home, in an absolute frenzy wondering how she is going to write a worthy follow-up to GG? Time will tell; but despite my snotty attitude here, I'm pulling for her. A few more books like GG and she will rightfully end up in the pantheon of greats like Minette Walters and Margaret Millar.