Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Crown Publishing Group. 2012. Personal copy. Part of my “vacation reads” series; that is, when I review a book for the grown ups instead of teen books.
The Plot: On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s wife Amy goes missing. He tells us how he comes home from work to find the door open, the living room showing signs of a struggle and Amy gone. Nick is telling us the story, his story, about two New Yorkers who lost their jobs and so moved back to his home town in Missouri to take care of his sick mother. Nick tells his story, and it’s not pretty. He’s honest about his emotions and resentment and it’s not pretty.
Then Amy speaks up, or, rather, Amy from years ago, her diary from when she first met Nick, and back and forth this married couple go, telling their story, not realizing how their words interact and create a rhythm and a whole story. A story of two people in an unhappy marriage, he telling it now, she going through the history of courtship and marriage, not realizing she is leading us to the day. The fifth anniversary. The day she goes missing.
The Good: Sorry, but this is another one of those books where I gush about loving it yet cannot tell to much about it.
Nick and Amy, Amy and Nick. When they were both writing and in New York, half living off Amy’s trust fund, things were easy and happy and wonderful. Then the trust fund disappeared, their jobs writing for magazines were gone, and they were in Missouri renting a McMansion while Nick runs a local bar with his twin sister and Amy. . . . Amy sits at home, getting older, no longer the cool, pretty, rich young girl she once was.
Here is Nick, on renting their home in a failed development: “It was a compromise, but Amy didn’t see it that way, not in the least. To Amy, it was a punishing whim on my part, a nasty, selfish twist of the knife. I would drag her, caveman-style, to a town she had aggressively avoided, and make her live in the kind of house she used to mock. I suppose it’s not a compromise if only one of you considers it as such, but that was what our compromises tended to look like. One of us was always angry. Amy, usually.” Only page eleven, and Nick’s own words, and already I don’t like him.
Pages later, Amy, and Amy from seven years ago: “I met a boy! . . . I met a boy, a great, gorgeous dude, a funny, cool-ass guy.” The enthusiasm! Of course, I like Amy. And yet… and yet. There are things she says, like when she talks about how other couples are not as cool as she and Nick: “Nick and I, we sometimes laugh, laugh out loud, at the horrible things women make their husbands do to prove their love. The pointless tasks, the myriad sacrifices, the endless small surrenders. We call these men the dancing monkeys. . . . I don’t need pathetic dancing-monkey scenarios to repeat to my friends; I am content with letting him be himself.” The situation this comes up in is Amy describing a night out for drinks with her friends and their husbands. Nick never shows, because he is not some “dancing monkey” and if he wants to do something different, he does, and aren’t Amy and Nick wonderful for not being overly demanding of each other? It’s as if Amy doesn’t realize she is painting Nick as incredibly self-centered and selfish, in not showing up or even calling about meeting for drinks. It’s as if Amy doesn’t realize it’s also making her look judgmental and cruel.
And so Gone Girl continues, showing us all their warts, all the deep, dark bad places in a person’s heart. Is Amy missing? Or did Nick kill her? Nick killing her almost seems like too easy an answer, even though at times it seemed like he was quite capable of hurting her. As for Amy, yes, we have her diary. But who is Amy, really?
And just when you think you have figured out the story, the kaleidoscope shifts, and everything you thought changes. And then changes again. This is wonderful storytelling, layered, complex, and deep, about two very flawed people. Gone Girl is about the way we see ourselves, and how we treat others, but told using two people who — well. After this book, I wanted to take a hot shower, to scrub my brain clean, to erase them from my brain. Some books show me the best in people; this showed me the worst. Yet, I want everyone to read it, because, whether as mystery or psychological character study, this is a brilliant book. I had to know what happened next, and kept turning pages, until it was two in the morning.
There is an interesting children’s literature tie-in: Amy’s parents write children’s books. Not just any books, but a series about Amazing Amy, slightly modeled on their only child. Amy ages and grows up, and she’s popular with readers. Amy’s relationship with her parents and with her literary-other is fascinating. What does it do to someone whose childhood is fodder for books? Is it the ultimate gift to a child or the ultimate punishment?
Do I think teens would like this book? Well, honestly, this is more for the grown ups. I’m not saying teens shouldn’t read it; I just don’t see it having teen appeal. Yes, they may find the Amazing Amy aspect interesting, but that is only a part of the book.
Because I am haunted by Nick and Amy. Because as god made them, he matched them. Because of the unreliable narrators. Because of the puzzle like structure. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.
Other reviews: EW’s Shelf Life author interview; S. Krishna’s Books.