REVIEW: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
“‘What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?'”
Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren’t his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what did really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife? And what was left in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war.
Dear Ms. Flynn,
Truly, there is no justice in the world. Your book Gone Girl should be the best-selling work of fiction in the nation. But, no, the three books keeping you from that slot all have the word “Grey” in the title. And that is a damn shame because your book is a tour de force of plot, writing, humor, character, and hell-hath no fury like a lover scorned rage. From the moment I began reading it, all I longed to do was see how the tale turned out. (Not now, honey, I’m reading.)
Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy whose marriage, like many, is full of lies, malice, sex, betrayal, love, and two bedazzlingly different sides of a story. I was utterly seduced by the middle of the first chapter. It is the morning of their fifth anniversary and Nick, not a happy camper, walks down to the kitchen to find Amy making crepes.
I hovered in the doorway, watching my wife. Her yellow-butter hair was pulled up, the hank of ponytail swinging cheerful as a jump-rope, and she was sucking distractedly on a burnt fingertip, humming around it. She hummed to herself because she was an unrivaled botcher of lyrics. When we were first dating, a Genesis song came on the radio: “She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah.” And Amy crooned instead, “She takes my hat and puts it on the top shelf.” When I asked her why she’d ever think her lyrics were remotely, possibly, vaguely right, she told me she always thought the woman in the song truly loved the man because she put his hat on the top shelf. I knew I liked her then, really liked her, this girl with an explanation for everything.
There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.
Amy peered at the crepe sizzling in the pan and licked something off her wrist. She looked triumphant, wifely. If I took her in my arms, she would smell like berries and powdered sugar.
When she spied me lurking there in grubby boxers, my hair in full Heat Miser spike, she leaned against the kitchen counter and said, “Well, hello, handsome.”
Bile and dread inched up my throat. I thought to myself: Okay, go.
Hours later, when Nick is at work, a neighbor calls and says the Dunnes’ front door is open, their only-indoor cat is on the stoop, and something just doesn’t look right. When Nick gets home, not only is the door open in a “wide-gaping-ominous” way, the living room is trashed, the iron still on, and Amy has vanished.
Nick, like the reader, knows when a man’s wife goes missing, the husband is usually to blame. And, for much of this book, it seems eminently possible Nick did indeed murder his bride. Nick, narrating his side of the story, admits to choices that, hey, look hellaciously awful. When he met Amy, she was beautiful, extraordinarily charming, and very rich. Over the past five years, though, things for Nick and Amy have changed drastically. Amy, though still beautiful, isn’t the least bit charming to Nick (or so he says), and she’s lost all her lovely money. Nick moved them back to his hometown of North Carthage, Missouri, a place Amy detests (or so he says), borrowed the last of Amy’s money to start a bar with his twin sister Margo–everyone calls her Go–, whom Amy dislikes (or so he says), and began to hate his wife for her constant belittling and general nastiness (or so he says.)
Amy, the missing Amy, tells her side of the story through a diary whose first entry, on January 8, 2005–more than seven years ago–is about the night she met Nick.
Tra and la! I am smiling a big adopted-orphan smile as I write this. I am embarrassed at how happy I am, like some Technicolor comic of a teenage girl talking on the phone with my hair in a ponytail, the bubble above my head saying: I met a boy!
But I did. This is a technical, empirical truth. I met a boy, a great, gorgeous dude, a funny, cool-ass guy.
When they met, Amy and Nick were both employed as writers. Nick wrote about culture for a magazine, Amy wrote personality quizzes for women’s magazines. And while neither are currently employed in their chosen field, they are still writers; fabulous, manipulative, creative authors, each competing to tell the story of their relationship. The book alters between Nick narrating what (or so he says) is happening in real-time–his chapters are titled The Day of, One Day Gone, Two Days Gone, etc…–and Amy narrating what happened in the past (or so she says), in chronological order via her diary.
Both Amy and Nick are liars. Nick favors lies of elision; Amy is the mistress of misdirection. Each is convincing, neither is believable–this is a book that doesn’t truly resolve its mysteries until the very last pages. And yet. Amy and Nick are also lovers. They loved one another when they met and it’s fair to say each is the other’s raison d’être. For the Dunnes, that thin line between love and hate is more like a continent.
This book is the sort I want to wave at other people exhorting them “READ THIS.” I found it to be addictive in the way the best stories are. Part of its impressive charm is all the shockers it drops–there’s no way I can write much about the novel without giving away the best parts. I’m serious–were I to enumerate all the spoilers lying in wait to ensnare lucky reader, I’d have inches and inches of whited out text. So, I’m not going there. With the exception of saying some readers may find the last few chapters rushed and/or may be disgruntled by the ending, I’ll write no more about the plot or about what happens to Nick and Amy.
I am willing, however, to pull my reviewer lens back and pontificate on this book’s vision of romantic love. I promise to be brief. In most romance novels, intimacy is the treasured goal. No matter what the era, men and women find their bliss when they know and are known for who they truly are. But, in the “real” world, intimacy is more fraught. As lovers grow closer, they become less the people they want to seem and more the people they actually are. Sometimes this is marvelous. Sometimes it creates utter ruination. Many times, it’s just hard and couples get through it. We are a flexible species–always adapting to meet our needs–and we recalibrate our views and expectations of that someone we’ve chosen to love. In Gone Girl, Amy’s and Nick’s ultimate goal is to show the reader the real person the other is. Their narratives are subtle, angry, and revealing; the relationship the two share is as intimate as any I’ve ever read.
When I read this book, I found myself agreeing with both Nick and Amy. The pulse of their anger worked for me. More than once, I found myself saying “Hell Yeah.” And then I’d realized I’d been manipulated. Take this bit where Amy, in her diary, writes about the perfect girlfriend. I am going to treat it as a spoiler simply because it’s a later entry in Amy’s diary. If you are the sort who doesn’t want even a hint of what’s to come, skip this bit.
[spoiler]Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men—friends, coworkers, strangers—giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much—no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version—maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)[/spoiler]
Here Amy (so she says) is sharing her anger with you, the reader, about the unfair deal women get stuck with these days. And I’m reading it and I’m thinking “Yes! Right on sister!” until I remember oh, this is Amy and it’s a bad plan to believe a word she (or Nick) says. I need to remember who I am and not get sucked into someone else’s bent world view. That I needed to do this is just one piece of what makes Gone Girl such a great read. Not only are Amy and Nick convincing–they are compelling and alarmingly alluring. Even now, that I’m done with their story, I’m still thinking about them, wondering what really happened, wishing I had just one or two more insights into their whacked-out world… it’s such a fascinating place.
So, if you are looking for an antidote to conventional romance, if you long for a love story gone wonderfully wrong, read Gone Girl. It’s a work of deceptive genius–Nick and Amy and their adroit, delusive narratives will stay with you after you’ve finished their tale. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll be reading the book a second time, marveling at all the things you missed. I give it a B+.