I had just set aside a novel that didn’t merit my time. (Okay, I threw it aside.) Then I picked up Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, a blockbuster novel of 2012, and from page one I knew I could relax into expert hands. Gone Girl is one of those un-put-downable books that keeps you reading with its deftness, skill, and imagination.
Flynn’s two protagonists, a husband and wife, tell the story in unique voices in alternate chapters. Nick starts his tale the day his wife disappears from their McMansion in an almost empty Carthage, Missouri neighborhood. They’ve moved to his hometown after both losing their New York journalism jobs in the recession. Amy begins her tale further back in time, leading us through their courtship to the present. The two storylines will converge, and from the beginning we want to know how.
I picture Flynn thinking, “What’s the worst and weirdest thing that could happen now?” Most chapters end with cliffhangers, so when Nick receives a text saying, “im outside open the door,” we (well, I don’t skip chapters) are compelled to read through the next chapter (Amy’s voice) before we get back to Nick and find out who’s out there. Which is fine, except Amy’s chapter leaves us with a cliffhanger, so we must keep reading even if we meant to fix dinner, run errands, make a phone call, or sleep.
At first Nick appears to be a jerk. He IS a jerk—interesting, articulate and intelligent—but still a jerk. He’s unhappy in his marriage, which seems unreasonable at best. Nick’s wife is a beautiful heiress and the heroine of her parents’ series of Amazing Amy children’s books. But we get hints, from both narrators, of deeper troubles as the story unfolds.
And unfold it does, with Nick as the prime suspect in his wife’s murder, regardless of the fact that a body has not been found. There is other evidence: an oddly staged crime scene, blood in the kitchen, and a series of clues Amy leaves behind for Nick to follow in their traditional wedding anniversary treasure hunt.
Oh yeah. Did I mention? She disappears on their 5th wedding anniversary, making Nick look like even more of a jerk.
The treasure hunt, along with quizzes Amy poses that echo those she wrote for women’s magazines while she still had a job, interweaves with the police investigation, a fiasco of national media proportions. Beautiful Heiress Missing! Husband is Prime Suspect! A Nancy Grace-type starts in on Nick and soon he’s the most hated man in America. The police don’t have enough evidence to arrest him yet, but he can’t move around his own town without being recognized and everyone thinks he’s a killer.
At first the reader thinks so, too. Then we don’t. Then we do. Flynn is a master of the writer’s task of putting the protagonist up a tree and throwing rocks at him. When you think there can’t possibly be more rocks here comes another one, and she throws them at both Amy and Nick.
Flynn’s skilled prose held my attention. I love her description of a sofa moved from an upscale New York City apartment to downscale, post-recession Missouri: “Our dignified elephant of a chesterfield with its matching baby ottoman sits in the living room looking stunned, as if it got sleep-darted in its natural environment and woke up in this strange new captivity…”
Flynn stretches believability in the latter half of the book, but I forgive it because the first half drew me in and forced me—forced me!—to continue reading. The ending, however, is anticlimactic, like getting off a roller coaster. You want more, but the ride itself is so great that it almost doesn’t matter. Almost.
Media reports say, by the way, that Flynn worked with director David Fincher to create a new ending for the upcoming film.
Gone Girl is a book where so much anger is suppressed so completely that the characters’ hatred becomes what sustains them. Someone here is diabolical, and it might just be Gillian Flynn.
Petrea Burchard is a Pasadena photographer, blogger, actress, voice-over talent and author. Her story “Portraits” is included in Literary Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, 2013). She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.com and LivingVicuriously.
Camelot & Vine can be bought locally at Vroman’s, the Pasadena Museum of History, Webster’s Fine Stationers in Altadena and the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeeshop. The ebook version is available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Diesel, Smashwords, and the Sony eReader.