On the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne goes missing. We’re talking front-door-wide-open, ironing-board-left-on missing. The police in Amy’s small Missouri town—where she’s moved reluctantly from New York to help care for her husband’s ailing misogynistic father—discover in their investigation of the house a haphazardly cleaned blood stain, curiously fabricated evidence of a struggle, and one seemingly unconcerned husband: the rather good-looking Nick Dunne. Nick is weirdly evasive, withholding information, glossing over details, even as he proclaims his innocence. He’s joined in the search for Amy by Amy’s parents, a nauseatingly happy couple who have made their living penning children’s books based on their daughter’s life; by Nick’s twin sister, Margo, who’s never gotten along with Amy; by neighbors, former stalkers, volunteers and suspicious acquaintances, any of whom could be the kidnapper, or killer, if only the evidence didn’t point so glaringly at Nick himself. But an emotionally crippled husband does not a murderer make. Right?
Over the last few weeks, Gone Girl just kept popping up in my field of vision, in that way engrossing beach reads seem to during the summer months. It’s already a national bestseller, and is being optioned for a movie. Amazon recommends it to me on a daily basis, and I’ve had no fewer than three people this month ask whether I’ve read it (second only to 50 Shades of Grey, which I get queried on weekly.) Which isn’t to say that I put up much resistance. One-third of the way through a Joyce Carol Oates book last week, I gazed longingly at my Kindle, where Gone Girl waited after being downloaded during an impulsive and possibly alcohol-fueled book-buying spree (because that’s the kind of boozy nerd I am.) Slowly paced and only vaguely engrossing family drama, or quick-and-easy murder mystery….I made my choice and I will own it.
Despite being a predictably thrilling page-turner, Gone Girl does manage to stake out some claim to novelty in the genre. For one, in the way it’s told—alternating between entries from Amy’s diary and a post-disappearance recounting of events from Nick’s perspective. Both characters are fascinating—especially as one is constantly trying to assess their comparative guilt or innocence—and neither viewpoint is boring, or any less enlightening than the other.
Gone Girl also feels very modern, in everything from its characters’ manner of speaking to its overarching critique of the 21st century media landscape. Indeed, the missing wife/suspicious husband combination is one ripped from the headlines, and the trajectory of Nick’s presumed guilt hews very closely to the sort of public-opinion lynching we’ve come to expect after cases like Drew Peterson. The case is even picked up at one point by television personality Ellen Abbott, a “former prosecutor and victims’ rights advocate” who so closely resembles Nancy Grace that I assume only legal considerations prevented Gillian Flynn from simply calling a spade a spade.
I’ve read reviews of this book that suggest the first half is better than the second—an accusation I can hardly qualify without giving away pertinent spoilers (which I won’t)—but I have to say I disagree. The first half is more predictably thriller, more traditionally climactic, like the slow climb up the first hill of a roller coaster. What comes after is kookier, less anticipated, less traditionally likable, but more unique because of it. The end result is less of a “whodunit” and more of a zany critique on the circus that now accompanies national news, particularly national news of the murdering husband/negligent mother/crazed gunman variety.
Considering my personal interest in our woeful obsession with fame (see: reality television) and my perhaps suspicious love of all books involving disappearances, violence and abduction, I suppose it comes as little surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed a novel that incorporates all of the above. So three cheers for schadenfreude! Hooray for the downfall of Western civilization! Nancy Grace for president! Gone Girl for beach read of the year.
TITLE: Gone Girl
AUTHOR: Gillian Flynn
ALSO WROTE: Dark Places, Sharp Objects
SORTA LIKE: Room meets The Likeness
FIRST LINE: “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.”