Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

20 Jul

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl begin a courtship. Boy and girl get married. Boy and girl both lose their jobs in publishing. Boy and girl leave big city and move to boy’s podunk hometown. Girl disappears; Boy gets blamed for murder. Can’t review without spoilers. You’ve been warned.

The Plot as I Understood it When the story opens, Amy is worrying via her diary that Nick isn’t dealing very well with the lay-offs at his company, but she’s trying to be a “cool chick” about it and not be the kind of wife who’d nag and bitch at her husband because he’s out getting drinks with co-workers recently laid off. Nick works as a pop culture blogger and Amy, who is also in publishing, is a trust fund baby whose parents had amassed a fortune writing children’s books based on an idealized version of Amy called Amazing Amy. Amy has girlfriends who emotionally blackmail their husbands into performing stupid pet tricks like meeting their wives for drinks after work so they can be shown off to the other wives and Amy vows not to be the kind of wife to do such things and to shrug it off when Nick doesn’t show up, ignoring the pitying looks from her girlfriends. Meanwhile, her relationship with her husband hasn’t been so great because Nick is in constant fear of getting laid off and seems to resent Amy who has never really had to worry about money due to her trust fund and wouldn’t have to worry about selling her ass on the streets even if she does get laid off herself. After the two of them get lose their respective jobs, they decide—Diary-Amy indicates that it is mainly Nick’s decision and she went along, like a good wife should—to go back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri to take care of Nick’s ailing mother and to open up a bar using the last of Amy’s trust fund (her parents had made bad investments and the Amazing Amy books are no longer selling, so they borrowed most of her money).

At first, Diary-Amy seems to be determined to make the best of things, even though Nick has taken to spending all of his free time at the bar with his twin sister Dot Go (short for Margot), getting drunk and coming home surly. She makes friends with the neighbors, especially a woman named Noelle who has triplets, and joins community and hobby clubs to pass her time. She even visits her Alzheimer’s-stricken father-in-law at the rest home where Nick and Dot have abandoned him. Above all things, she just wants to bring back the Nick she fell in love with—the sweet, charming guy that every woman had a crush on and every man wanted to be friends with. She does this by staging elaborate anniversary treasure hunts designed to remind Nick of all the little moments during the year that mean something to Amy and the places around town where they happened. On top of that, she would also really like a baby, but Nick has told her—in an increasingly angry manner—that they are neither at the proper financial nor the emotional level to do that. In short, Diary-Amy is miserable because Nick doesn’t seem to see all the hard work she’s been putting in to make the marriage work and she hates where they live and Nick has been getting so very, very angry with her and sometimes… sometimes… it really pushes her to do awful things like go out and buy a gun from the seedy part of town…

And then Amy disappears. Nick doesn’t know where Amy could have gone. He came home one day and Amy was gone. The door is wide open, there are signs of struggle in the living room, and she’s not picking up her phone. There are ugly whispers that Nick possibly murdered Amy—the police did some CSI stuff in his kitchen and it looks like someone had hurriedly cleaned up an awful lot of blood—and Nick, who is ever so used to be being adored, is not liking this one bit. As the evidence against Nick mounts up and public opinion of him slowly goes down the toilet, Nick takes it upon himself to investigate the hours right before Amy disappeared. After all, she had to have gone around town planting clues and love notes as part of her Yearly Anniversary Treasure Hunt, so Nick decides to play the game one last time in hopes it will give him an insight as to Amy’s state of mind. As the days go on and Amy remains gone, the town continues to give Nick the hairy eyeball and his own twin sister begins to question what kind of man Nick could be. Meanwhile, Diary-Amy reveals a rapidly deteriorating marriage on the pages of her diary and how oh-so-perfect Nick is slowly becoming a harsh, short-tempered man who’s taken to grabbing and shoving Amy whenever he’s pissed at her. And he seems to be pissed at her all the time. And she’s trying so hard to be perfect wife for him—she’s supportive of all his plans, takes care of his neglected father, doesn’t bug him too much about the baby she wants so very badly, and when he comes home late at night smelling of booze, she doesn’t even complain too much. So why won’t Nick just… go back to being the guy she fell in love with? At this point, it’s really looking like Nick might have done away with Amy especially since he has a twenty-one year old girlfriend and oh, Amy’s best friend—that NICK DIDN’T EVEN KNOW SHE HAD—is out there telling anyone who would listen that Amy was pregnant and she was so scared about what Nick would do if he found out. Suddenly, it’s not looking too great for our Mr. Handsome Golden Boy, is it? Except there are people out there who just really hated Amy and apparently stalked her over the years and as Nick continues to look into Amy’s last hours, he’s starting to realize that he might not have known Amy at all

The Female Lead Diary-Amy appears to be a poor, little rich girl neglected by parents who are so absorbed with creating a fictional version of their daughter and making money off of her that they don’t really see Amy. She’s been given a trust fund, attended the best schools, has a good job in publishing and a swanky place in New York, and married a seemingly great guy, but Amy is not happy. Diary-Amy believes in hearts and flowers and falling in love. She loves big, elaborate displays of affection, and doesn’t believe she deserves anything less. After all, she goes through the trouble every year setting up her Treasure Hunts for Nick and flying in lobsters from Maine for the two of them to enjoy; the least Nick could do is… show up, for Pete’s sake. Uncranky. And not drunk. And she so wants to be supportive of Nick wants, even if it means moving back to his hometown in the middle of nowhere to take care of his ailing parents and to financially back up a bar with the last of her trust fund. For all of this, has she ever asked anything from Nick in return? She’s even tried to be a “cool chick” for him— you know, the kind of woman who doesn’t complain that her boyfriend watches too much sports or never sends her flowers, and drinks beer with him and his friends, and doesn’t make him go to stupid chick functions like baby showers, and doesn’t nag him when he comes home too late, and doesn’t get mad when his anniversary present isn’t as grand or lavish as the one she gives him. And Amazing Amy deserves a “cool” guy like Nick, the kind of guy that everyone instantly likes. Amazing Amy Gets Engaged. Amazing Amy’s Amazing Wedding. Amazing Amy Gets Pregnant. The oh-so-perfect protagonist of the books created by her parents just has to be partnered with an oh-so-perfect guy, just like Barbie with Ken. But Nick, whining about his writing career never going anywhere and never asking how Amy’s doing when she’s suffering alongside him, just had to ruin everything, didn’t he? Amy didn’t sign up for the podunk town and the drunken, neglectful husband and the failing marriage. She just wants the handsome, perfect husband and the cute, gurgling baby and maybe the brownstone in New York City. And Nick is just being… a complete… asswipe!

The Male Lead Nick Dunne is the kind of guy you like immediately. He’s a pop culture blogger, so you can probably talk to him about movies, books, and music. He’s good-looking, too, not unlike Cracked.com’s very handsome staff writer, Soren Bowie. He was raised in the Midwest and wasn’t born rich, so he doesn’t have that stench of eau de douchebag like trust fund babies. Nick is used to being adored by everyone, so when people start looking at him like… well, he killed someone, he’s not really too happy about it. Sure, it’s been a good while since he visited his Alzheimer’s-stricken father at the nursing home; and sure, he’s been having sex with one of his students at the community college where he teaches; and fine, he hasn’t been the best husband to Amy—did she really expect him to remember every single moment of their time together—but he’s generally a good guy, ask anyone in town. And yet it’s hard for Nick to play the good guy when he can’t seem to get himself to infuse any kind of emotion into his voice while pleading for Amy’s “kidnappers” on TV to bring her back; he also seems to have a hard time keeping himself from inappropriately laughing out loud or smirking and posing with the tragedy groupies who descend upon the grieving husband like he’s Bret Michaels. And then there’s the twenty-one-year-old girlfriend who won’t leave him alone, even when the police are starting to suspect him for killing Amy, and threatens to come out to press if Nick doesn’t promise to call her back everyday. The thing is, he’s remembering a different Amy than anyone else in town remembers: for one thing, Nick knows that Amy didn’t have a best friend named Noelle and the sainted Amy that everyone keeps talking about tends to talk shit about people behind their backs. And Amy… well, she had a manipulative, devious bent to her that Nick had only seen glimpses of and Nick is afraid that he’s only now seeing what Amy is truly like. And it’s slowly starting to dawn on him that Amy has more in store for him than some chintzy, cheesy anniversary present.

Oh My Word! This is probably the most thrilling book I’ve read in a long time. I can’t even count the number of times I yelped out loud or yelled, “That is so fucked up!” or clutched the book to my chest and closed my eyes for a second because it made me so nervous. The story is told in three parts: 1. Amy and Nick’s courtship (narrated by Amy’s diary) 2. The disintegration of their marriage and Amy’s subsequent disappearance 3. the aftermath of the police finding Amy’s diary. Amy’s side of the story, from the most part, comes directly from the pages of her diary; Nick’s point of view is told in 3rd person limited present day. His POV tells the story as he sees it happening, but we “learn” about Amy in the alternating chapters through her diary. As the reader, you realize immediately that things will go very, very bad for Nick as soon as the police finds Amy’s diary because its pages paint him as a mentally and emotionally abusive husband, who drinks and is frustrated about the state of his career, so he takes it all out on Amy who appears to only want what’s best for him. Diary-Amy is a sweet, romantic woman who naively falls in love with Mr. Handsome and Charming, only to find out that her smart, confident husband is actually insecure and kind of a bullying jerk. Nick, for the most part, while kind of an asshole, seems to be completely baffled as to why Amy would want to buy a gun to protect herself from him when he had never physically harmed her. Yes, he has cheated on her and yes, they’ve been fighting a lot more lately, but he couldn’t even begin to imagine as to why Amy would be afraid of him. He’d never intentionally hurt Amy. He’s just not… that kind of guy.

And that is really the crux of this story: two messed-up people who expected too much of each other, thinking they know each other very well, only to realize that they don’t know each other at all. Amy wants a perfect Ken Doll of a husband to match the Amazing Amy figure that she has been trying to fight all of her life. She presents to Nick the facade of a “cool chick” and that’s the woman he falls in love with. When introduced to a different kind of Amy, Nick withdraws and finds himself repulsed by her because she’s not the woman he fell in love with.

I really enjoyed Rashomon-type of storytelling that the author utilizes to tell this story because it effectively showcases how the same scene might play out from another person’s recollection or point of view. Even when the “twist” finally comes—and it’s not really a “twist” because it comes at you in the middle of the book—it doesn’t play out the way you may think. Amy and Nick are both such master manipulators of each other’s emotions, so perfect at tearing each other down, that there’s just no way the two of them should be with anyone else but each other. In fact, even as Nick finds himself marveling at Amy’s deviousness, he wonders if he could be falling in love with her again. Amy, for the most part, is a diabolical genius and has the power to crush Nick, but holds back because she herself is wondering if she’s falling in love with Nick. It’s funny because the two of them pretend to be other people in order to attract each other and yet only when they see each other at their ugliest do they realize that they may deserve each other after all.

What I found interesting while reading this book is how I devoured it in one sitting—took me four hours (do NOT pick up this book and start it at 9pm if you have to go to work the next day)—even though the two main characters are NOT at all likeable. SPOILER ALERT AMY IS NOT THE SWEET, CARING PERSON PORTRAYED IN HER DIARIES. Nick starts out okay–an affable slacker who never really knew what he wanted to be when he grew up, but the one thing he knows he doesn’t want to be is his father, who was physically abusive to his mother. And so Nick tries hard to be the guy that everyone likes, putting himself out to be charming, funny, and confident, even though he himself is the only one who knows his own limitations, which constantly plague him. He is mildly disdainful of the rich, even if Amy is one of them, because he worked hard to get through college, working in a bunch of odd jobs. He is, on paper, a good guy. And yet something is just a little off about Nick—yes, he’s a cheating scumbag—but the fact that he would spend all of his time in a bar bought with his wife’s money (even as he resents the fact that she was a trust fund baby) and neglect her at home, makes him a douchecanoe in my book. Some people might think Nick is the protagonist in this book fighting against his manipulative, psychotic wife… but I don’t think so. I wanted so badly to like Nick, but I just couldn’t. Whenever he’s about to do something halfway decent, he fucks it up and takes it two steps back. I think he and Amy are both assholes and they deserve each other. Moreover, Nick is worse than Amy in some aspects because he’s a lying, cheating hypocrite (though Amy, admittedly, has a few things over on Nick in a few ways). In this story, there’s really no one to cheer for and yet I found myself riveted from the first page to the last because I was eager to see how far these two psychos could go trying to destroy each other.

A word of warning to some of my fellow readers who may think this is a romance; it’s a love story, in a way, but there’s no happy ending. Nick and Amy are messed up assholes and determined to tear each other down, yet it’s a credit to the author, Gillian Flynn, that I was completely and totally absorbed by the story, wondering how much worse it could get between Nick and Amy. I came away from this book thinking that what the two of them need is a show-down: Mr. and Mrs. Smith-style. Let’s give them both katana swords and see what kind of real damage they can do to each other.

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4 Responses to “Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn”

  1. Laurie July 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    Go, not Dot. I’m nitpicky like that. ;)
    I pretty much agree with your whole review, they are both unlikeable assholes, and yet I couldn’t tear myself away! Great book, great review!

  2. bam July 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    Why was I thinking ‘Dot’? Where did I get that? I must be reading a book with a character named Dot. I read 3-4 books at a time. Ha ha.

    Gillian Flynn is brilliant at writing characters you can’t sympathize with, but are so compelling that you’re drawn to them. Have you read “Sharp Objects”?

  3. Jess B July 25, 2012 at 6:42 am #

    Ok, so having skimmed past most of your review (due to not having read it yet and still wanting to), I will have to bookmark this and come back to it, cause it seems like quite an extensive discussion and you have me curious on your thoughts! Pleased you recommended it though-should be a good read. Funny-they actually had this in the handful of books on discussion on bookreportradio(dot)com last week. I missed the show on air, but think I’ll go to the site and listen to the archived recording-am interested to hear the narrator of the audio book. That said, this might be one I’d rather read myself. Look forward to getting back here.

    • bam July 25, 2012 at 7:17 am #

      Awesome, Jesse. Really looking forward to your opinion on the book! Come back soon! :)