I was never one to read a psychological thriller. Then… I read Gone Girl.
Nick and Amy Dunne are auspicious young writers who met, as many writers do, in New York City. Nick came from a small town known as North Carthage, Missouri to make a name for himself in journalism. Though born a city girl, Amy held similar aspirations. Her parents had made a living writing children’s books featuring Amazing Amy, a character the “real” Amy has struggled to emulate. The two writers are a perfect couple with the perfect life: until the recession starts to eliminate their job market. What’s more, they learn Nick’s mother has been diagnosed with cancer. It only makes sense to move back to Missouri. In order to make ends meet, Nick decides to open a bar. Amy contributes the remains of her savings to make this happen but is unable to find work herself. They are about to celebrate their 5 year anniversary when Amy disappears. Though Nick is the police’s prime suspect, his guilt cannot be confirmed. In fact, it seems very few details regarding Amy’s disappearance can be confirmed. As various clues and alibis start to contradict each other. The police struggle to build a coherent case. The question remains: Where is Amy?
Gone Girl is not necessarily a “new” release, as the original publishing date was in 2012 and the film adaptation was released in 2014, but I still feel obligated to review (and praise) Gillian Flynn for her work. As I stated above, I was not typically drawn to her genre but then I was required to read Gone Girl for a critical reading course in college. I was totally sucked in and wrote as much about the book as possible.
I promptly bought Flynn’s other novels: Sharp Objects (2006) and Dark Places (2009) and was happy to find that Gillian Flynn is inventive in all her books. She writes to achieve rumination rather than resolution and forces readers to challenge their comfortability with principal characters. There are neither “heroes” nor light-hearted adventures. To be crystal clear, Flynn writes for a mature audience.
My favorite aspects of Gone Girl is Flynn’s use of dual and unreliable narration. These two literary techniques aren’t always used together, but I do think they work together nicely to prove that multiple perspectives are integral to the plot of a successful thriller novel. The point of view alternates between Nick and Amy Dunne, who recount events in a manner which protect their self-interests. As a result, both narrators are unreliable and increasingly unlikeable. When Amy disappears, Nick is barely fazed. He withholds details regarding his alibi for the morning of Amy’s disappearance from secondary characters as well as from the reader.
Amy is just as murky in her diary entries. seems like a caricature of a woman when she writes in her diary. Her stories from when she and Nick met in NYC read like a film script. I didn’t know who to believe or when to take either character seriously (which was great, because I don’t want predictable characters in a thriller or mystery novel). This unreliability caused me to start thinking about how secondary characters would tell their version of the “Nick and Amy” story. For example, how did Amy’s parents interact with her on a daily basis? Did they actually expect Amy to use the Amazing Amy series as a literal roadmap to success, or were they simply inspired to write after her mother was finally able to deliver their only daughter?
I also enjoyed how Flynn confronts gender stereotypes in this book while keeping the characters realistically problematic. For example, Amy brings forth an interesting debate on gender expectations by expressing the pressures of being “Cool Girl.” She explains, “I waited patiently— years— for the pendulum to swing the other way, for men to start reading Jane Austen, learn how to knit, pretend to love cosmos, organize scrapbook parties, and make out with each other while we leer. And then we’d say, Yeah, he’s a Cool Guy” (301). The idea that women should be constantly agreeable while interacting with men is still prominent. This is why we are still referred to as “bossy” instead of “authoritative” when we establish ourselves in positions of power. We are expected to adapt to men’s tastes and to “calm down.” To exploit our sexuality. To tolerate inappropriate jokes when we know they’re offensive and unfunny.
However, women are also taught to look for an unrealistic profile in men, and Amy exhibits this phenomenon. Though she admits to struggling with gender expectations, she shames Nick for struggling with his identity: “You are a man,” I say. “You are an average, lazy, boring, cowardly, woman-fearing man…The only time in your life you’ve ever liked yourself was pretending to be someone I might like” (529). This moment is interesting, as she is chastising Nick for being passive, but also for performing according to her expectations. Again, I must stress how this novel will make you think about character likeability and complexity.
The only complaint I have about this novel is the very end because the story is uncharacteristically resolved in comparison to Flynn’s other books. I can’t elaborate too much without including spoilers, but I do feel there would be more complications to the resolution when all character perspectives are considered. This aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I give Flynn a 5-star rating and am eager to see her on the best-seller list again soon!
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Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl: A Novel. Crown, 2012. Kindle file.