Bright Blue Light

A blue light hung motionless in the sky right next to the half-moon. It was like the night sky had a hole in it, and the blue of mid-day was leaking through. It was a perfect circle, smaller than the moon. A blue circle in the night sky.

I stood back from the window still holding the curtain with one hand, and I reached behind me for my phone with the other. I called Harry and he picked up straight away.

“You should look outside right now,” I said before he had time to say hello.

“It’s, like, 2am,” he said.

“You don’t have a normal sleeping pattern.”

“What do you want Kate?”

“Look outside.”

I heard mumbles and a window opening.

“What am I looking at?” asked Harry.

“Look at the moon. To the left of the moon.” There was silence. “It’s blue,” I said.

“Shit,” he said.

“What do you think it is?”

There was a pause from Harry.

“Could be a drone,” he said

“Oh, of course, I didn’t think of that.

We’re quiet for a few moments, on the phone watching the light in the sky.

“Don’t drones move around a lot, though?” I asked Harry.

“Yeah they do,” he answered.

“Harry… I’ve been watching it for about ten minutes. It hasn’t moved from that spot, but I think it’s getting bigger.” I pressed my face against the cold glass. My breath fogged the window. “Can you get a picture of it?”

“Yeah I could give it a go. Just hang on one sec, I’ll grab my stuff.”

There was a clang as Harry put the phone down. I could hear the main road travel through the speaker. I used to wake up early mornings to the sound of that road.

“Still reckon it’s a drone, though,” said Harry. I could hear the beep of his camera turning on.

“You used to be far less skeptical.”

“Yeah well it’s 2am, I’m always skeptical at 2am.”

“It’s 1am.” I said.

“1:30,” he said. I took my phone away from my ear. It was 1:28 am.

“… but otherwise, it could just be a drone,” I heard Harry say as I put my phone back to my ear.

“Sorry, what? I missed that first bit.”

“Nothing. I’ve taken a few pictures. Not great, though. Do you still have my 24mm lens?”

“Pretty sure you lent some lenses to Tom. Could you send the photos to me?”

“Of course I did. And yeah I will in the morning.”

“Are you going back to bed?”

“No, I’m too awake now.”

“Sorry.”

“Kate I think you’re right.”

“What?”

“This thing is actually growing.”

Blue Light

I realised I had been staring at the corner of my window, and looked back up at the blue light. It was bigger than the moon now. And brighter.

“I think I can get better pictures of it at the water tower.” said Harry.

“I can bring a better lens that Jack bought last week.”

“Jack?”

“My new roommate.”

“Right.”

“I can meet you there in about thirty,” I said.

“Where?”

“The water tower?”

“Oh right. Sorry. Still half asleep.”

“You’re not concerned about this at all are you?”

“Like I said, 2am makes me skeptical.”

I didn’t correct him, I knew it would be 2am by the time I reached the tower.

I grabbed a backpack and hurriedly filled it with warm clothes and a blanket. I took my own camera, just in case. Oh, and snacks – I tiptoed into the kitchen to avoid waking the roommates. I moved in last week and I didn’t know if they would be interested in assumed extraterrestrial activity.

Jack had left his lens on the kitchen table. I wrapped my jacket around it and put it in my bag. I would return it in the morning.

It concerned me how little Harry cared about the light. When we met we were had bonded over our childhood obsession with the conspiracy books in our local libraries. We had both agreed we were now adult skeptics. But a part of me wanted to believe.

I walked to the water tower, glancing at the light every so often. People had already noticed the light and were standing out on their lawns. Pajamas still on, phones to ears, phones to the sky. I kept walking.

Harry was already there by the time I arrived. He was setting up his tripod.

“Hey,” I whispered behind him.

“Hey,” he whispered back. I took out my jumper and unwrap Jack’s lens.

“Oh hey, this is a pretty good lens,” Harry said screwing it on his camera as I put the jumper one. “I got this too,” said Harry, pulling out an old checkered blanket. It was the one from his bed.

“I didn’t know how long we’d be here for so I prepared for the worst.”

We sat back against the railing looking up at the blue light. Every now and then Harry would sit up and take a picture. We were silent and there were crickets.

I couldn’t tell if the blue light was increasing in size anymore. My eyes lids drooped, and I began having trouble focusing.

“Kate, Kate.” I woke up to Harry shaking and yelling at me. “Kate!” I had fallen asleep on his shoulder.

“Harry, Jesus, what’s wrong?” But he didn’t need to explain, his fingers pointed to the sky. The blue light had started to do…. something. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was vibrating almost. It was silent, pulsating. The crickets had stopped chirping. The light stopped vibrating. Goosebumps prickled my skin and my heart skipped a beat.

Then it exploded. Silently. It exploded like a firework. Bits of blue light flew across the sky like comets. The sky sparkled for a minute. And then there was nothing.

“Shit,” Harry said. I stayed silent in shock. “I didn’t get a picture.” I turn to him.

“That’s what you’re shocked about?” I ask.

“Yeah, it would have been an amazing shot.” I didn’t know how to react. harry and I just sat watching the light of the sunrise creep into the world. Harry packs up his things.

“Anyway, I have to go, I’ve got work in a few hours. Should probably get some sleep.” I hand back his checkered blanket. He starts to walk to the stairs of the tower when he realises I’m not following. “So you’re staying here?”

“Just in case,” I say.

“Kate I think the shows over.”

“Show?”

“What would you call it?”

“I don’t know,” I say, still staring at the sky.

“Sure,” I say and he leaves.

It was on the news the next day. Other people had managed to capture the moment it exploded. I watched a few online videos. NASA released a statement taking responsibility. They said it was just a routine missile test that got a little bit out of hand. Of course, I was skeptical about that, and blogs and sites were created also doubtful about the statements. But there was nothing out there truly convincing, and it annoyed me for a time. It was something that was always in the back of my mind. It was an itch of information I couldn’t scratch, but I did eventually give up on it.

I gave up on Harry. Well, he gave up on me too. I was skeptical about us. We couldn’t be just friends with a history of being more than. That’s what I convinced myself happened. That’s what I believe happened. But you can’t believe everything when you know the universe is a strange place.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann

 

‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn – Review (no spoilers)

The Book

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These days it’s rare to find a novel that can truly surprise readers. We’re all too busy and too opinionated to be messed around by sneaky genre-bending narratives. Authors are encouraged to satisfy reader expectations and dance to the tune of stylistic conceits, in ‘literary’ works as much as in ‘commercial’ fiction. While Gone Girl sits firmly in the crime/psychological thriller category, the explosive success of the novel has much more to do with how well Gillian Flynn bends the rules than with how well she follows them.

The novel has far more reality than we usually expect from our crime fiction, and a bit too much character exploration for our ‘genre’ comfort-zones. Predictably, this means people either love it or hate it, and vehemently so, which is indicative of both the quality of writing and the intensely disturbing plot. One thing is guaranteed, though: the novel will surprise you.

Premise:
Amy Dunne goes missing under suspicious circumstances on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary and her husband Nick is caught in the headlights of the ensuing media frenzy. It unravels from there in alternate POV threads: the husband in present tense, and the wife’s diary entries leading up to the fateful day.

Surprise 1: Narrative
With twists coming in unexpected ways and at blindsiding intervals throughout the narrative, it’s very difficult to talk about the book without ruining it completely. Audiences love a good sting but this is one novel where you really will be guessing at the numerous red herrings (wondering if they even are red herrings) right up to each reveal, and sometimes beyond. And even if you do guess right, Flynn finds another way to slap you in the face.

Surprise 2: Characterisation
Flynn masterfully creates two distinct and intricate voices in Nick and Amy. Her painstakingly thorough character portraits feature some of the most insightful portrayals of human nature you can read. You find yourself squirming at the blatant honesty of these two flawed and complex people and you will think (more than once) they are repulsive; they are just like me. Add to that a well-pitched supporting cast, with some surprises of their own, and you realize you are dealing with an expert in emotional intelligence.

Surprise 3: Style
Overlaying all the narrative details and character complexity, Flynn weaves a beautiful and immensely readable style. She manages to circumvent all normal adjectival use by endlessly inventing new and brilliant ways to describe people, things, events and emotional reactions. Even though she kind of breaks Strunk & White’s Rule #17, you forgive her for the hyphenated adverbs because they are so darn clever.

One technical downfall that bears noting is that the structure seems a little out of balance. The first half of the book crescendos at a measured and excruciating pace and the following sections feel rushed in comparison. Pushing reader patience at 470 pages, Flynn could have paced with greater care.

Surprise 4: Themes
Binding all these elements together and making the novel truly uncomfortable to read is the stark interrogation of marriage and relationships in the 21st century, and therein lies the issue most people have with the story. Flynn has applied her twisted realism to the portrayal of all relationships in the book, but the interaction between Nick and Amy, with their fragile in-jokes, dangerous misunderstandings, and niggling frustrations, will make you question the tumultuous undertow of even the very best marriage. Highly disconcerting.

So, despite it’s brilliance I have to be honest and admit I didn’t actually enjoy reading the novel. It reads like witnessing a tragic disaster in slow motion, and if you’re angling for a nice generic who-dunnit, this is not your biscuit. The thematic surprises have pissed off more than one reviewer, proving that messing with our expectations is not always a popular angle. Though, considering the enormous hype borne of this controversy, one might be forgiven for suspecting that’s exactly what Flynn was going for. It doesn’t change the fact that I read the whole thing and would encourage you to do the same.

The Movie

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Apparently Gillian Flynn did what all Hollywood executives fear: demand to write her own screenplay. While many have lauded her screenwriting talent I suspect it’s largely on account of the brilliance of the story rather than the particular quality of the dialogue, detail, and pacing. Flynn did write the story and deserves to be commended for it, but I think a writing partnership would have drilled out those minor niggles that a lot of amateur movie reviewers are latching onto, such as the shortened-timeline issues (different in the book), perceived ‘holes’ in the narrative (there are none, they just aren’t well explained in the movie), and misrepresentation of certain character motives (again, more explicit in the book). She did well to pack all the relevant plot points into a two-hour movie, but those small inconsistencies were distracting and would have been ironed out by a fresh writing eye.

Nevertheless it is an impressive, entertaining, and affecting standalone movie. Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) seems to specialise in mystery narratives with a twist. He was an ideal choice to direct a character-focused, deliberately paced thriller, and as expected his work is clever and visually beautiful. Under another hand the movie could well have been ruined through over-dramatisation or visual monotony. Yet his style can be distracting, as is the case with any unique director, and you find him at times being a little too clever for his own good.

Ben Affleck is slowly crawling back into public favour with his recent acting and directing credits and he is perfectly cast as Nick Dunne, more or less described (physically) as a guy whose face you’d want to punch (you could say Affleck was born for the role). While his coiled reserve was highly effective, I was disappointed he didn’t do more with the emotional fallout, particularly in the second half of the movie.

Rosamund Pike I’ve found generally underwhelming but she’s pleasantly surprising as Amy Dunne. Considering the other casting options (only Chastain could have brought the same wide-eyed distance) she was the obvious choice. Her portrayal is excellent, restrained and effective: just the right amount of everything. Can’t say more without spoilers.

The supporting roles were impressive, particularly Kim Dickens (Boney), Patrick Fugit (Gilpin) and Tyler Perry (Bolt). Sadly Amy’s parents were cast to emotional stereotypes, and Neil Patrick Harris, though perfect as Desi, could’ve tried harder. My one real bone was Margo. Many reviewers liked her but I don’t think she was the right fit. As I read the novel I kept picturing Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter as the confused but devoted sister. I suppose after her brilliant portrayal of Debra Morgan no other screen sister will impress me.

I won’t discuss the ending here but will explore the themes in the follow-up essay. I will say that people either love the movie for its clever plot or dislike it for the themes and implications. And both views are justified.

My final take on the movie, despite its obvious strengths and weaknesses, is that the director tried too hard to make it cool. It felt a bit like clever mumblecore with a plot. Literally there were moments when I couldn’t understand the dialogue because of the bad sound mastering, but jokes aside everything felt a little underdone. The performances were just a bit too unemotional; the editing just a bit too sharp and clever; the score just a little too smug and creepy. Ten years ago we reveled in the indie revolution of understated grit and moping characters, but for a movie like this it just feels contrived. Across the board, now, the subtlety for subtlety’s sake is getting tiresome.

It’s a brilliant story and worth a view, but not as perfect as all the hype would lead you to believe. The high scores it’s garnered are a result of the shock value of the plot, which is warranted, but after that wears off the movie loses a star or two under objective reflection.

Elise Janes