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What We’re Reading: Emilie Friedlander

September 14, 2012

Tired of reading the same recommended books from the usual sources? Just think of our weekly What We’re Reading column as your non-committal book club with The FADER and some of your favorite bands. For this installment, Senior Editor Emilie Friedlander writes about two unconventional mystery novels.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: I’m not much of a bestseller person, but since my roommate lent it to me two weeks ago, Gillian Flynn’s story of a crumbling marriage between two out-of-work writers has been occupying almost of all of my brain space. Gone Girl is a classic detective story of a housewife’s mysterious disappearance from her North Carthage, MO home, but the way Flynn tells it makes it positively addicting. The narration flips back and forth between her husband living through the present-day investigation and entries from the missing woman’s diary, which chronicles their relationship beginning from their first encounter in New York, seven years prior.

Each passage ends in a kind of a cliff-hanger, so that when you finish an “Amy” entry, you want more of Amy, and you can’t wait to be done with the “Nick” chapter that follows (and vice verse). The cops suspect that Nick killed her, the media suspects that Nick killed her, and after reading Amy describe his personality, which shifts from charming to borderline abusive across five years of marriage, we begin to believe that he did, too. It doesn’t help that Nick is a terribly unreliable narrator, and seems equally unwilling to tell us what happened on the day of Amy’s disappearance as he is to tell the detectives. He’ll say something to another character, and then inform you, “That was the fifth lie I told that day,” but you have no idea what the other lies were. If that doesn’t make you shiver a bit, well, wait until the schema-shattering, table-turning plot twist that occurs midway though the book.

Motorman by David Ohle: Motorman is the kind of novel you pull off the shelf when you want to give someone a reading experience unlike any they’ve ever had, and I can’t imagine having found out about it any other way. This one—published in 1972, then lost to history, then found again—also fits into the mystery/thriller category, although it completely explodes the kind of meticulously plotted facticity that makes a book like Gone Girl such a page-turner. Moldenke, who resides in a vaguely corrupt, technocratic society, is vaguely persecuted by a mysterious businessman/government agent named Bunce as he (also vaguely) tries to reconnect with his benevolent mentor Doctor Burnheart. It starts with Bunce placing a series of phone calls to Moldenke offering a collection of cassette tapes full of “things said in [his] absence,” and the world we have entered gets even stranger from there, from night skies filled with multiple moons to characters with “booster hearts” in addition to the one they were born with.

But what makes Motorman really unique is the way that Ohle manages to paint the most implausible images and scenarios while still remaining within the rational confines of language, much in the way that most dreams seem to make linear sense when you’re actually dreaming them. Take this passage concerning the view from Moldenke’s apartment one day, for example, and note how it’s written like a run-of-the-mill place description, but with a bunch of mind-bending twists: “Both suns were up, and clouded over. It was dark enough to be close to noons, although he didn’t have a clockpiece anywhere. The second double Sunday in an artificial month.” Psychedelic is an easy word to throw around when talking about music, but Motorman is the rare psychedelic book.

From The Collection:

What We're Reading
What We’re Reading: Emilie Friedlander