Former “Entertainment Weekly” television critic Gillian Flynn’s seductive, critically acclaimed, tour de force third novel, “Gone Girl,” once started, is virtually impossible to put down. No matter what else I had to do, nor how tired I was – I very often read before I go to sleep – I kept willing myself to finish a few more pages of the taut, psychological thriller in order to find out what would happen next. That is the highest compliment I can pay a book.
It is a tranquil summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, a town that has been hit hard by a dismal economy, as evidenced by the closing of both a shopping mall, and, a printing plant which used to produce the blue books used by college students for their exams; it is also the fifth wedding anniversary of Nick and Amy Dunne. Nick is a man, who after being let go at his job writing about pop culture for a magazine, has returned to his boyhood home to help take care of his ailing mother. Amy is an attractive and clever, transplanted New Yorker, who also worked as a writer constructing personality quizzes. She is no longer employed and feels that taking up occupancy in their new McMansion type home is equivalent to giving up a piece of her soul. Furthermore, she is the inspiration for a series of best selling books called “Amazing Amy” written by her parents who create a character that would be impossible for any real person, let alone a child, to live up to.
Nick is the antithesis of a happily married man. The morning of his anniversary, he walks down to the kitchen to find Amy making crepes. Questions about his marriage are weighing heavily on his mind. Adding to his mental burden is the knowledge that he will soon have to go on his wife’s elaborate annual treasure hunt, where each clue is a riddle regarding their relationship, which will lead to the next clue and continue that way until he finds his anniversary present. Hours later, when Nick is at work – he co-owns a local bar, aptly named “Bar,” with his twin sister “Go,” short for Margo – he receives a phone call from his neighbor informing him that his front door is wide open and their house cat is on the stoop. Once he returns home, Nick discovers the iron is still on, the condition of the living room indicates that a struggle took place, and Amy is nowhere to be found.
Certainly not a stupid man, Nick knows full well that when a wife goes missing, the husband automatically becomes the prime suspect until such time as an alibi replete with witnesses is put forward. As Nick narrates his part of the story to the reader, he admits to poor decisions he made in regard to his marriage that, when first looked at, will do nothing whatsoever to help exonerate him from blame for Amy’s disappearance and possible murder. It also definitely doesn’t help that when he first describes thinking about Amy, he is envisioning the shape of her head, the back of it to be exact.
The first time the reader hears the narration from Amy’s point of view is from a diary, the first entry of which, dated January 8, 2005, is about the night she first met Nick at a party in Brooklyn. Flynn sets up the novel in a way that alternates between: Nick narrating the present day in regard to the police investigation with chapter titles that represent the number of days Amy has been missing – “One Day Gone,” “Two Days Gone,” an so on; and the omni-present media attention incidents of this nature attract. A media, which will focus on his every move and facial gesture; they will expose his business failings, and cast him in the most unfavorable light when he is revealed to have a young mistress. Amy’s narrations focus on the past as it pertained to her relationship with, and subsequent marriage to, Nick, and leads up to the day of her disappearance.
Flynn, in this blogger’s opinion, through the first part of the novel is guiding the reader toward what seems to be an inevitable outcome; just as years ago it was almost always the butler who was to blame, now it is almost always the husband. But, Flynn is not the sort of writer who is interested in sticking to some formulaic outline marching toward the sort of natural conclusion that will lead to a reveal that most seasoned readers will see coming pages before the ending. No, she switches things up and reinvigorates, in this blogger’s opinion, any reader whose attention and time commitment might have started to wane thinking they were in store for a cliché ending. I’ll refrain from more commentary about plot points, because I wouldn’t have the heart to reveal anything that would ruin a rewarding literary experience.
A movie adaptation has been optioned. Flynn is writing the screenplay, and actress Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) is set to both produce and star. Unlike watching movies, which I am not knocking (I think I have documented, at least I have attempted to document my fanatical love for them in numerous past postings in Robbins Realm Blog.com) but they can be watched normally within a two hour time frame. A book, however, is an investment in a much greater amount of time. Any author whose prose can captivate my time the way Flynn did with her exceptionally well drawn characters, perfect pacing, and intricate plot is an author I look forward to reading for many more years to come.