I was surprised to find that no one here at Blogging for a Good Book had written about Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestseller. After all, a tight suspenseful mystery surrounding a ripped-from-the-headlines event should have caught our attention.
Well, I finally got my copy, and in trying to write about it without giving the whole thing away I’ve learned why no one else touched it. After all, it’s a runaway bestseller about a ripped-from-the-headlines event reconstructed as a tight suspenseful mystery, which means plot twists and surprises, and if you read any further you might just find out why, and then Gillian Flynn and Crown Publishers will be mad at me for spoiling the book, but I’m on the hook because I’ve already written this much. So, there’s this guy and this girl, and she’s gone. Stop here if you don’t want me to give anything away.
Actually, the guy is Nick, and the girl is his wife, Amy. Nick is storybook handsome, with enough boyish charm to attract plenty of women. Amy is “Amazing Amy,” the inspiration for a long-running and successful series of children’s books that made her parents a fortune, gave her a huge trust fund, and got her lots of attention everywhere she went. Their meet-cute storybook romance and wedding have given way to the realities and compromises of marriage, but Amy is determined to press forward and recapture the excitement and intimacy of their early days together. At least, that’s according to her diary. Seriously, don’t read any further.
Nick, on the other hand, is a passive, self-centered guy whose failures in New York gave him an excuse to drag the cosmopolitan Amy to his Missouri hometown. His saintly mom is dying of cancer, his nasty father has Alzheimer’s, and his beloved twin sister has retreated home from her own losses. Their hometown is quickly dying in the turbulence of the Great Recession and the signs of collapse are all around. Then comes the fateful day, which is detailed through Nick’s eyes. I’m warning you—don’t go on!
On their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears, leaving behind signs of a struggle. The initial investigation and all-out search proceeds as if she’s been kidnapped, but the deeper the investigation gets, the more Nick tells us that he’s lying to the police. He has no alibi for the time surrounding her loss, he misleads them about the nature of his and Amy’s relationship, and he can’t explain why the evidence of a struggle appears to have been manufactured. And the culture of infamy begins. Unfortunate photographs, inconsistencies in his story, and the natural inclination to look to the remaining spouse as the likely guilty party trigger the interest of a scandal-mongering true-crime TV show. Shocking revelations trickle out at the worst possible times, and Nick’s efforts to steer his public image are doomed in the face of the unrelenting spotlight. OK, you’ve made your choice—let the consequences be on your head.
By this time, the reader is lost in a maze of mirrors. Do we believe the writings of the best wife a man can want, or the admissions of the worst kind of husband a woman can have? Do we trust his self-confessed failings, or his efforts to find out if someone from Amy’s past has surfaced to harm her? Does he deserve the belief that his family (and Amy’s) have in him, or are the police right to focus on him? Flynn constructs these uncertainties in a way that continually pulls the readers’ feet off what little firm ground they have to stand on. Spoiler alert!
Keep in mind that this all happens in the first third of the book. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
By deconstructing Amy and Nick’s marriage (with Amy’s disappearance looming in the background), Flynn also asks readers to examine the fool’s paradise that most of us construct when we try to deceive others. (And it was Sir Walter Scott, not Shakespeare, who famously reminds us of that.) There are some, though, who can construct elaborate structures to hang their lies on, and who can manipulate others by observing and anticipating normal behavior. When the lie is big enough, its sheer improbability gives it credence—who could go to such lengths to create a falsehood? Flynn finds a way to show us, even as she gradually introduces the idea that their victims sometimes can’t find a way to escape the destruction.
Neil’s comprehensive list of 2012′s Best Books shows that Gone Girl was the best reviewed mystery of the year. Based on all the stuff I can’t or won’t tell you, I have to agree with the reviewers.
Check the WRL catalog for Gone Girl