Gone Girl and Infertility
I finished Gone Girl, and now I need to comment on something that bothers me in books. When I mentioned it to someone else this week, they weren’t bothered by this type of plot hiccup at all, so I guess I’m writing this to gauge how the general public feels. But I don’t want you to read this post if there is any chance you will read Gone Girl in the future because what I’m about to say will ruin one of the twists in the plot. So, click away if you haven’t already read Gone Girl (or feel free to stay if you have no intention of ever reading the book).
I’m giving you another chance to click away.
And then shoving the meat of this post even further down the page with a series of asterisks.
Good, everyone left should be people who have either read Gone Girl already or have no intention to do so. First and foremost, I thought the writing in this book was brilliant. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous book. I was interested in both characters, and when the twist came in the middle of the book, I was totally taken by surprise. I thought Noelle’s husband had killed her. I was obviously a little… off.
That said, when we first got a mention of fertility treatments on page 294, I was momentarily distracted. We’re told that Amy lies about how long they’ve been trying in order to jump directly to fertility treatments. Okay, I could buy that. I mean, yes, they’ve just gotten to Missouri, and it sounds as if they don’t have health insurance since neither one has a job. But I’m willing to suspend disbelief and go along with the idea that they just happened to find a doctor to refer them immediately to a clinic, and that clinic in St. Louis had an opening.
I was even willing to ignore the fact that we’re told nothing about any testing that was done. They just jump immediately into treatments. Sort of.
For some unknown reason, Nick makes three donations of his sperm, presumably for an IUI since the sperm is being frozen, not tested. I have no idea why he’s not being tested before they start treatments, but he’s not since we’re clearly told that the clinic is saving these samples (and apparently notifying him after a year that they will destroy the samples if he doesn’t pay the storage fee.)
We can assume it’s for an IUI since we also know that there is nothing wrong with Amy since she’s lying. Which means that I can’t imagine a doctor telling her to skip straight to IVF without at least trying an IUI or two since she is young-enough and their infertility would be unexplained. Plus, in a moment, we’ll read that Amy has pills (Metformin? Clomid?) which would align with an IUI but be highly unusual for an IVF cycle. So Nick is going in and banking sperm for an IUI (fine, maybe IVF… it really doesn’t make a difference in this case).
What doctor would prefer to use frozen sperm instead of fresh? The only people I know who have ever banked their own sperm for treatments they’re currently doing are people who are deployed or who work in two separate states. Why would a doctor purposefully choose a method of insemination that has a slightly lower success rate?
Isn’t that odd? Did anyone else have a situation where their partner went to the clinic long before they were ensconced in treatments and for no reason froze three sperm samples for future use? What clinic wants to use storage space on a current patient who has not actually scheduled treatments? Please correct me if I’m wrong and you know of a time when a clinic has suggested that a person bank their sperm even though they would be available to be there physically the day of the IUI or retrieval.
Even with all that strangeness, I was willing to suspend that disbelief (I’m a forgiving reader) again until we got to the part where Amy has a vague series of pills she is supposed to be starting on any random day of her cycle. Is it Metformin? Clomid? Why wouldn’t these drugs be timed to her cycle? Why are there so many pills in the bottle? Let’s assume it’s Metformin because there are more than 5 pills in the bottle.
“I visited the room on three separate occasions — they like to have a lot of backup — while Amy did nothing. She was supposed to begin taking pills, but she didn’t, and then she didn’t some more. She was the one who’d turn over her body to the baby, so I postponed nudging her for a few months, keeping an eye on the pill bottle to see if the level went down.”
So… they have a clinic in St. Louis that is collecting sperm from Nick without anything scheduled for Amy, and she is taking an oral medication willy-nilly as part of her treatments?
I was distracted reading this passage, but I was able to set it aside because it was a small blip. I don’t expect Gillian Flynn to know the intricacies of fertility treatments, fertility drugs, or clinic protocols if the only place they’re being mentioned in the book is this tiny description of their life.
Really, I barely even remembered how much it bothered me until I got to the end of the book. And then, when the banked sperm became the plot twist, I put down the book hugely disappointed.
I was willing to suspend disbelief when I thought it was a tiny blip in the plot line, just a research mistake. It would only be noticeable to someone who had done treatments. So I was willing to let it go. Fiction gets things wrong all the time; my own books included. And infertility is complicated.
When that tiny moment becomes the turning point of the book, the spotlight idea that changes everything, then I get pissed off when it isn’t accurate. You’re hinging the entire book on fertility treatments: do the work to make them believable. Because frankly, it isn’t believable that your husband, who owns a bar and has no travel on the horizon, would need to bank sperm rather than give the donation in the morning before the IUI. It isn’t believable that she is given a bottle of pills that she can start whenever she wishes. Oh, and she doesn’t even need any monitoring to boot.
Because with that, I also didn’t believe that Nick would ignore his wife’s actions just for a child. I never believed he was so in love with the idea of a child — mostly because it’s just peppered in there every once in a while. You never see him interact with a kid in the book and get a sense that he’d really love to be a dad. We’re just told that he wants it on one or two occasions, and then we’re expected to believe that he’s planning to live the rest of his life with Amy and this child she is using to “trap” him (though, of course, we’re told that he wants to be trapped if it’s trapped-by-child). And the final twist is that Amy is obviously plotting something with those final lines.
So I left the book with mixed feelings. I loved the writing. I loved the twists (except for the infertility-related ones). I loved the plot and the pacing. The book changed my mood. It affected how I felt. I loved it.
Until the very end.
I am completely willing to forgive mistakes related to infertility when it is a tiny, throwaway part of the plot line. But when infertility is front and center as part of the plot, as it is in Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner or Gone Girl, I find that I can’t enjoy the story when I’m distracted by the inaccuracies.
How do you feel when infertility (or treatments) rears its head in fiction? And did the inclusion of fertility treatments ring true for you as a reader when you were ensconced in Gone Girl?
By the way, Gone Girl is the November book for the GRAB(ook) Club if you want to talk about it with others. I still have plenty more to say.