You Had Me At "Chicken-Frito Casserole"

There's something funny about the e-book version of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, where, instead of a neat Tony Kushner epigraph, as one would find in the paper version, there's a sort of table of contents that gives away significant spoilers in the book.

Owning a physical copy of the book, we didn't have that experience, but I think I'd be pissed, because while I kept trying to register my ideas about how the story would unfold to Jen, who had read it first (a macho I'll-figure-this-out thing), I would feel cheated seeing any clues in advance.

At book club today, Goober wondered how and why people feel so excited about "figuring out" a story in advance. To an extent, I think it's part and parcel of a mystery-type of book — what's the fun of a mystery if you can't try to figure out how Encyclopedia Brown knew that Colonel Mustard hit Asta in the head with a candlestick? But he has a point: People just love to let other people know that they know things. And it's almost hardwired in us: Just try to watch Jeopardy! without wanting to blurt out the question to the answer. It's a sickness.

That said, Gone Girl wants you to try to figure it out. And so you try.

By Way Of A Spoiler Alert, Feel Free Not To Read Past Here If You Have Not Read Past Part One

So there's a point in the book on page 11 where Amy, one of the main characters, talks about a specific song in a diary entry dated January 8, 2005. Your first reaction might be to wonder why one would include such a specific meaningless detail, and, more important, why weigh down a book with that kind of specific meaningless detail so as to make it meaningless to a reader years from now.

By Way Of A Spoiler Alert, Feel Free Not To Read Past Here If You Have Not Read Past Part Two

Which is to say, that when I complained to Jen about reading specific meaningless details and wondered why someone would weigh down a book with that kind of specific meaningless detail so as to make it meaningless to a reader years from now, Jen got prickly: "Just keep reading." And when you keep reading you finally learn why parts of the book are littered with seemingly meaningless details and dates.

It's a really fun, smart enjoyable book — kind of like the treasure hunts that Amy sets up for her husband that figure so prominently in the story — really detailed and clever and brilliant and kind of scary smart.

By Way Of A Spoiler Alert, Feel Free Not To Read Past Here If You Have Not Read Past Part Three

Which is why the ending is a little disappointing. Or at least, the ending doesn't feel commensurate with the big, beefy, balls-out set up. It feels heady and literary and not at all satisfying in the way something like Thelma and Louise was satisfying. Not that I wanted Amy to drive off a cliff, but I think Flynn misses an opportunity in the end, which is that she succeeds so well in creating an unlikeable character (Nick) that you want to root for to succeed. And let's be clear — it's not like you're rooting for a "flawed" character like Tony Soprano or Omar Little but rather an all-American dickhead that deserves to have his up comed. So when Nick just kind of throws up his hands and admits that he actually likes all the drama, you're kind of baffled, partly because it's kind of unbelievable and partly because you're like, dude, you could have made me want to root for a defense attorney in a way that Alan Dershowitz lies awake at night fantasizing about. Disappointing.

I'll leave out the strange side character who is Amy's main obstacle preventing her from returning home that I'm still not sure I buy or understand. All of us were kind of like, "hrm." Maybe that'll be ironed out in the screenplay?

But that's not that big a deal in the end, because Gone Girl has sucked you in so thoroughly and completely and made you stay up way past a decent hour reading.

You Can Actually Probably Read This Part Because It Doesn't Really Give Away Anything In Particular

Unless you're incapable of enjoying reading — and I am almost incapable of enjoying reading, it mostly being a chore that I usually end up "enjoying," but just not in the way I "enjoy" something like, say, sports bloopers — you're probably tearing through Gone Girl. And if you're speeding through it, the novel's "smart" parts might make your head hurt if you perseverate on them too long. Specifically, there's a lot of stuff in there about "narratives," writing, writers, mediated experiences, "true selves," "reliability," media hoozie-whatzit and related stuff. It would take a while to unpack it all and I'm not sure where you'd be. I think probably her main point as it relates to this stuff is that somewhere along the way, between, say, 2005 and today, everyone got real stupid in the way they present themselves to the world in the unprivate way each of us are public and in the public way we live privately. Or whatever. Like I said, there's something in there but it's hard to say what it is because you're too wrapped up in wanting to see how this really compelling story unfolds.

Related, you might read the Acknowledgements section at the end (do all works of fiction have acknowledgements now?) and get kind of creeped out because Flynn sort of kind of maybe a little sounds like crazy fucking Amy — I mean only in the way she is kind of exuberant in her thanks and uses a lot of exclamation points! Which is similar to how Amy sounded in her diary parts in the book. That makes you realize that writers writing a well-written book — especially in the thriller-mystery genre — aim for a tightly wound pitch-perfect exemplar of internal logic. You can see Flynn with all the pieces around her just piecing them together in exactly the way Amy constructed this shitshow the book revolves around. Which makes the whole enterprise kind of "meta." Which then makes my head hurt, just a little. Better to remark that it was wonderfully copacetic that each of the male protagonist's three names said something: Lance Nick Dunne, for reasons you'll ponder as you turn the page after the end of a chapter. Smart!


OK, so the other thing I like to do for book club is cook a meal that folks enjoy, because I like to do that but also because I know that for some people it's a pain in the butt to get out to Queens on a Sunday. For Gone Girl, the obvious choice was to make Chicken Frito Casserole. I consulted a couple of online recipes which, frankly, sounded disgusting, mostly because they seemed to rely on canned cream of chicken soup. I wanted to try to do a little more of it from scratch. Not the Frito part, obviously, but just aiming a little higher than canned cream of chicken soup. Which, it turns out, isn't hard to do.

So basically, this recipe is a cross between this and this or maybe this. There doesn't seem to be a "real" recipe for Chicken Frito Casserole, just a collection of boasts that go something along the lines of, "Dump in a can of cream of chicken soup, chicken parts, cheese and Fritos and bake at 400 degrees for 75 minutes."

Funny: I assumed you could get Fritos anywhere. I don't know if it's a good thing that I had to go to three stores to find them, but it at least said something positive to me about our neighborhood. I ended up with two lousy snack pouches of Fritos for $1 each. But that was enough.

Here's what you'll need:

Cooked chicken pieces — about four breasts' worth
Whatever spices or herbs you use when you cook chicken
1 medium onion
Spices and herbs for glop
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
Hunk of supermarket cheese (a half-pound? I can't remember, though you can add as much or as little as you want)
1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 small can of green chiles
2 little bags of Fritos

So here's what I did:

First, cook the chicken. I did this in advance, using four breasts on the bone. It shouldn't matter what parts you use, just don't overcook them. Dice and set aside.

Second, make the creamy glop that you cook the stuff in. I sauteed a medium onion in butter for five minutes, then added a teaspoon or so of garlic powder and a teaspoon or so of salt. Add stuff like rosemary, oregano, thyme at this point and mix in a half-cup of flour. Add two cups of chicken broth and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream and let it reduce slightly and cool. While it's cooling, grate a hunk of cheese of some sort — probably cheddar or something similar — those hunks they sell at the store.

Next, add one 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes and one small can of green chiles to the glop. This will help the mixture cool further. Add the chicken at this point and one small bag of Fritos.

Next, grease a 9-by-13-inch pan (or thereabouts) and spoon the chicken-glop mixture into the bottom, then a layer of cheese and alternate until you're out of glop. Reserve some cheese for the top, add a bag of Fritos on the top and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of that. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.

This turned out pretty good. You can tweak the recipe, clearly, but as a starting point, there it is. Now you can strumpet around the Find Amy Dunne Headquarters with your can't-miss Chicken Frito Casserole . . .

Posted: January 14th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Books Are The SUVs Of Writing | Tags: , ,

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