“There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.”
Hmm. I’m trying to arrive at a nuanced, thoughtful, writerly way to describe Gillian Flynn’s acerbic literary sensation Gone Girl. All I can come up with: this is some fucked up shit. Good grief. Just to be upfront, “mystery/thriller/suspense” isn’t my preferred genre. So if you find me in that aisle of the bookstore, I’ve undoubtedly lost my way. But Flynn’s wild ride is one of the most highly acclaimed books of the year, and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Or, at least, I though I did…
Gone Girl tells the story of Nick and Amy—two attractive, improbable opposites who somehow make perfect sense. As Amy puts it, “Nick and I fit together. I am a little too much, and he is a little too little.” A New York City native, Amy is a magazine quiz writer and a trust-fund kid—earnings accumulated from her parents’ successful children’s book series, Amazing Amy, based on the life of their only child. Nick, a writer too, is a Missouri transplant—avoiding his own parents as well as the blue-collar, small-town, banal existence of his youth. Their marriage is seemingly ideal replete with cool jobs, a Brooklyn brownstone, and a flush bank account. Sounds like the perfect rom-com setup, no? The three parts would seem to indicate as much: boy loses girl; boy meets girl; boy gets girl back (or vice versa). Wait, what? That’s not how it goes…
Here’s Amy’s description of that all-important, meant-to-be moment:
“And then you run into Nick Dunne on Seventh Avenue as you’re buying diced cantaloupe, and pow, you are known, you are recognized, the both of you. You find the exact same thing worth remembering. (Just one olive, though.) You have the same rhythm. Click. You just know each other. All of a sudden you see reading in bed and waffles on Sunday and laughing at nothing and his mouth on yours. And it’s so far beyond fine that you know you can never go back to fine. That fast. You think: Oh, here is the rest of my life. It’s finally arrived.”
It sounds wonderful, I know—but dear, silly, naïve reader, it’s not. Rest assured (well, maybe with one eye open), chick lit this ain’t. Part 1 gives us the story of Nick and Amy’s relationship from Nick’s real-time perspective and Amy’s old diary entries. The first marital blow comes as his-and-her matching layoffs. After foolish investments by Amy’s parents lead to a severely diminished nest egg, Nick moves Amy back to his small town in Missouri to help care for his dying mother and Alzheimer-suffering father (long divorced). As Nick admits, “by the time we left for Missouri, I was just pissed. I was ashamed of the memory of me—the scuttling, scraping, hunchbacked toadie of a man I turned into. So I wasn’t romantic; I wasn’t even nice.” Yet Amy’s diary entries maintain that rom-com tone, which Flynn ultimately debunks as the curtain is drawn in Part 2. At that point, we come to learn more about the real Amy: “I was pretending, the way I often did, pretending to have a personality. I can’t help it, it’s what I’ve always done: The way some women change fashion regularly, I change personalities.”
Fast-forward to their fifth anniversary and a marriage on the brink of collapse. The real-time perspective entails an in-home crime scene, a missing wife, a mistress, a bizarre cast of creepy characters, a haphazard investigation, and a relentless national spotlight. He is a man accused. Let the good times roll…
Perhaps Gone Girl is a social commentary on the institution of marriage—on how well anyone really knows his or her spouse, on how small resentments can lead to the deterioration of a relationship, how two people can see the same event in distinctly different ways. Man vs. Woman: the twisted dangers of winning the point. But, on that level, it really doesn’t work for me—mainly because these two characters are at their core irredeemable, psychotic assholes. Both of them. So in terms of the larger take-away? Nada. At least for me. I closed the book feeling mostly icky—like I had just spent 400-plus pages engrossed in the sinister lives of two totally awful people.
Indeed, Gone Girl is a story comprised mostly of bad guys. And, again, that’s really not my thing. Still, I embrace it for its smart, snarky humor, for its whodunit appeal, and most compelling, for its astonishing craftsmanship. Love it or hate it, Flynn is an adept writer with remarkably well-drawn characters and a pacing so crucial to the storytelling, it’s seemingly a character itself. In fact, I read it in two sittings; I couldn’t put it down. But I’m not sure that means I liked it; it just means I couldn’t look away. And the ending is fittingly sad and grotesque—of which the only remedy, for me at least, is a delightfully mushy rom-com.
Citation: Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl. New York: Crown, 2012. Print.