Around the end of 2012, I read a blurb about a book by the name of Gone Girl written by Gillian Flynn in a random magazine at my doctor’s office. The premise seemed interesting enough. Wife goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary; did the husband do it? It piqued my interest for a moment and then was quickly forgotten. A few weeks later, while browsing through iBook, I saw it again on the bestsellers list and said “what the hell? I’ll give it a try.” I already had a substantial “to-be-read” list, so I didn’t jump into it immediately. Instead, I let it toil away, collecting proverbial dust on my virtual bookshelf. As the winter slipped away, spring breezed by, and the summer came hotly on its heels, I started noticing something. That book that I had bought, all those months ago was everywhere. Everywhere. I could not go on a NYC subway line, or in a coffee shop, or in the cafeteria at work without seeing someone’s head buried inside Gone Girl. Seriously, no matter where I went, someone would be reading it, holding it, or talking about it – even my mother. So because I’m an immature asshole, and I hate mass fanaticism, I refused to read it. Yup. I refused to read a book I paid good money for. Not because it was lousy (I hadn’t read a word) and not because the reviews were bad (apparently it was golden) but because it was already hot and I was tardy for the party. Call me immature if you want (go ahead, I can take it) but there is something about jumping on the bandwagon when it’s already crowded that I can’t stand. I hate that shit. I want to be one of the first people already settled and looking on the rest of the hopper-on with my lip curled and my nose in the air. And in doing so, I almost missed out on a very good read from an excellent writer. I’m not totally in love with Gone Girl, but I’m head over heels in love with Gillian Flynn’s sharp wit and incredible writing. I will most definitely be reading her other books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places.
Gone Girl isn’t for everybody. If you’re the faint of heart, looking for heroes to root for, a male protagonist to fall in love with or a female lead to envy, this is not the book for you. It is Dark. Super Dark. Not torture, serial killer dark. But the kind of dark that makes the tiny hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you catch your spouse silently looking at you. Since reading it, I’ve caught my husband looking at me, then glancing away several times. My paranoid brain has become very feverish since reading this book.
Gone Girl opens up on the day of Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Nick is still in bed thinking about his wife’s shapely head and uncorking her skull just so he can “sift through her brain and pin down her thoughts” because to him, Amy is an enigma. The Amy he met isn’t the Amy he’s now married to, and he wants to know where the hell did his version of Amy go? Nick then gives us a bit of insight into his and Amy’s marriage. Their whirlwind courting in New York. Their marriage. Twin lay-offs from their respective magazine writing jobs, and then the relocation from a posh brownstone in Brooklyn, to a foreclosure cul-de-sac hell in North Carthage, MO. Like any other marriage when finances, sick parents, and uncertainty are added into the mix, it’s impossible to keep all the hidden resentments from coming up to the surface, and polluting everything. You feel impotent. Out of control. So what do you do to feel useful? You let all that shit out and you blame the other person. It’s very true for many couples who are facing hard times. And it is no less true for Nick and Amy. When reality finally hits the love struck couple, the little things that that were once cute and part of their mutual attraction to each other are now fucking annoying, and their once impassioned love is bordering on passive hate. At the time of Amy’s disappearance, the Dunnes found themselves at a juncture. Five years married, silently or not-so-silently tolerating each other’s bullshit. They are miserable, broke, and possibly not in love anymore. Hmmmm…. I’ve watched enough Discovery ID to guess where this one is going. Some time during the day, Nick gets a call from his neighbor telling him that the front door to his and Amy’s rented McMansion is wide open. When Nick takes his sweet time getting home, he walks through their wide opened front door, sees picture frames knocked off their coffee table in the living room, an ottoman turned over, and broken glass on the floor. Obviously a struggle. And no Amy. Where is Amy? Amy is Gone.
Nick doesn’t seem surprised or concerned. And thus begins the suspense. Did he have anything to do with Amy’s disappearance? It’s quite possible. From the onset, Flynn did an amazing job of casting shade and doubt over Nick. Which is no simple feat since the story is told from Nick’s point-of-view. That’s one of the reasons why I hate writing anything suspenseful or mysterious from the first person point-of-view. It’s hard to write a did-he-or-didn’t he from the maybe guilty party’s point-of-view without giving everything away. But Flynn masterfully tip-toed on that thin line and gave her readers just enough red meat to let us know that Nick is a shady motherfucker, but still leaving us wondering if he has it in him to harm his wife.
After reading the book, I read a few reviews on Goodreads and came back with one thing: people either love Gone Girl, or they absolutely hate Gone Girl. For those who hate the book, the reasons vary. Some hated the middle and the end. I loved everything except for the last two pages. And I can’t even say I completely hated it, I was more underwhelmed by it. For nearly the entire book, Flynn had me on such an unbelievable ride, that when the end came, I said “oh. That’s the end?” I will say that after getting some of the inside machinations of major publishing houses, I’m pretty sure a know-it-all editor kept bludgeoning Gillian in the head with author-hated words like “word count” and “make it shorter.”
Another reason some seem to dislike Gone Girl is because of the characters. True enough, there isn’t one likeable character. Not Nick, not Amy, not Nick’s sister Go (side note: I hate her nickname. Her name is Margot, but Nick calls her Go. What a lazy guy that Nick is? But I guess that’s Gillian’s point.) Although the book was scarce on likeable characters, and although at times I found myself wishing someone would drop a bomb on the entire town, I still thoroughly enjoyed the cast of narcissistic, banal, assholian characters. I enjoyed their snark. Their asshole behaviors, their selfishness. Because when a character is truly flushed out, and a story is well written, who cares if he or she is likeable or not? It’s just like voting for a President. Who cares if I would want to have a beer or Sunday tea with him or her? I’m not looking for a best friend; I’m looking for a President. I use the same thinking when it comes to characters in the books I read. Are the characters well developed? Are they layered? Multi-dimensional? Is the story written well? An unlikeable character will never make me give up on a book. But a likable cookie-cutter character will. I have hated characters I’m supposed to love and loved characters I’m supposed to hate. If a character does evil things, and the writer doesn’t make me believe in his or her evilness, then the book sucks big time. Gillian wrote characters who were flawed to their bone. It was her intention that we see the douche bag flaws of Nick Dunne. That although he wants others to believe he is Mr. Wonderful, on the inside, he is something different. I’ve known guys like Nick. I’ve worked with a few. He’s that guy where on the surface everything seems perfect. He’s good looking, all-American with a head full of perfect hair, a winning smile and a cleft on his chin. Everyone is supposed to like him, to gravitate to him. But they don’t. They look at him through squinted eyes, trying to detect what they don’t trust about him. He’s the guy who laughs a little too loud and long at a joke that isn’t funny. He’s the guy that says hi to everyone and makes such an elaborate show of being chivalrous that you have to suspect that it’s fake. He’s covering something because a guy, who tries that hard to be liked, is trying to make-up for a shitload of deficiencies. We weren’t meant to like Nick Dunne. We were meant to view him as a dick and possibly a man who was sadistic enough to harm his wife. In Amy’s instance, we get a biased view of who she is through her diary entries. Almost immediately after she goes missing, we get an account of Nick and Amy’s courtship and subsequent marriage, leading all the way up to the days before her disappearance. Amy is a rich girl. A self-entitled, self-absorbed, very clever rich girl who for every anniversary sends her poor bastard of a husband on these idiotic treasure hunts all over town, with riddles to places that have some sort of importance in their romantic trajectory. Or at least she believes has some importance in their romantic trajectory. Because he isn’t as clever as Amy, for five years straight, Nick has never, ever solved a riddle, which leaves Amy disappointed in her prince charming and worse yet, Nick disgruntled when he realizes that he will never be as clever or as perfect as his wife. And so, through her diaries, we witness the downfall of Nick and Amy’s marriage and why she went missing that summer afternoon.
Gone Girl by no means is a perfect book. I still have issues with a few things. But what outweighs all my complaints is the incredible writing and plotting Gillian (we’re on a first name basis now) put in her book. Is it Anna Karenina? No. But it is what its genre is meant to be. It’s unsettling. It’s dark. It’s an entertaining, page-turner. You tell yourself you’re only going to read for one hour before bedtime, and when you look up, three hours have passed. It’s that kind of book. When I reached part two of Gone Girl, I stayed up until three in the morning to see where the hell the story was going. I had only three hours of sleep that night. The bitchiness the next morning was totally worth it. 😉
P.S. I’m so excited for the movie. Rosamond Pike has been cast as Amy Dunne, and they couldn’t have casted a better smarmy, all-American douchebag than Ben Affleck. His face just screams it, doesn’t it? In addition, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gillian divulged that when she wrote the script for the movie (Gillian is freaking superwoman. She fucking wrote the screenplay too), she completely changed the ending. It will be a new experience for those of us who’ve read the book. I see what Gillian did there. She’s the head chick-in-charge now. She can write the ending she really wanted without the brasses at the publishing house on her ass. Congratulations, Gillian. You’re living every writer’s dream.