With Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn has established herself as the master of creepy. Her first two novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, both thrillers, were met with high critical acclaim. But Gone Girl, her most recent work, is her crowning achievement.
The novel was number one on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller list for eight weeks and will be adapted into a film starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Park as Nick and Amy Dunne, the spiteful couple in a sordid marriage.
Over October break I figured I’d try to do some reading for pleasure to, well, avoid all of my academic reading. Seeking a fast-paced guilty pleasure, I came across Gone Girl after hearing from a friend that you “literally just won’t put it down.” Perhaps it’s the snooty Vassar English major in me, but I generally avoid thriller novels. Aren’t they all predictable and over-the-top? A little cheesy?
Apparently not. Gone Girl proved me wrong.
The novel has a fairly innocuous opening. Nick, on the couple’s five-year wedding anniversary, describes how he and Amy, former reporters in Manhattan, have ended up living in a rented house in suburban Missouri. Both laid-off, Nick figures he can “bundle up [his] New York wife with her New York interests, her New York pride,” (6) and relocate her to his miniscule Missouri hometown.
After a curt anniversary breakfast over crepes and coffee, Nick goes to work. When he comes back, Amy is gone.
What make Gone Girl so unique are its razor-sharp prose, inventive narrative structure and wily unpredictability. Nick and Amy both serve as narrators of the novel, and the lack of cohesion between their perspectives creates a case of the classic unreliable narrator, and leaves the reader entirely unsure of whose side to take.
Nick narrates in the present, detailing his search for Amy and the media attention surrounding her disappearance. Amy narrates, however, through diary entries, written from the beginning of their marriage up to the day she disappears. Flynn powerfully illustrates the miscommunications, resentment and ulterior motives of the two characters in this deteriorating marriage. For the reader, it illuminates not only how stressful situations—moving, being laid-off—can take a toll on a marriage, but also how deception pushes that strain over the edge.
As the reader learns early on, Nick has many secrets of his own that make him look a little too suspicious to the public. Nick is having an affair with a senior in college behind Amy’s back, recently upped his wife’s life insurance, and has a whole barn filled with superfluous items that have racked up his credit card debt. Sure enough, the media grabs hold of this information and is quick to vilify Nick, and he scrambles to find his wife while under the constant threat of arrest.
However, Amy has some bizarre idiosyncrasies that unsettle the reader. Her parents are the authors of a successful line of books, the “Amazing Amy” series, which chronicles the life of an idealized version of their own daughter as the stories’ protagonist. In the books, Amy always does the right thing, and always overcomes adversity. What’s spooky is that the real-life Amy doesn’t sway far from her fictionalized self. A furtively manic perfectionist, Amy manages to play the flawless, beautiful wife and socialite without ever conveying her inner exasperation and arrogance.
Doesn’t that all sound like a perfectly adequate base for a thriller novel? In Gone Girl, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Flynn kicks off the second half of the book with a shocking twist that, frankly, no one will see coming. If your friend says he knew it all along, he’s lying. I, for one, threw the book across my bedroom in astonishment (don’t worry, it’s a hard-copy).
The book only falters at the end. After being hurdled through a tornado of secrets and emotions, I was hoping for a more conclusive finale. Still, many readers will be pleased by Flynn’s audacity to end the story in the layered way that she does.
Flynn’s Gone Girl is an ambitious thriller. It tackles current issues affecting American society—manipulation from the media, the heartache that comes with a broken economy—while illustrating the tragic story of a marriage gone terribly wrong. On top of that, Flynn keeps you guessing the whole way through, and the novel is so riddled with twists and turns that it will make your head spin. In a good way. As my friend insisted, you “literally just won’t be able to put it down.”