A marriage is a foreign country to the people outside of it, and like a foreign country, a marriage has a language all its own.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, tells the story of a marriage gone horribly awry. I’m not going to worry about spoilers in this review, since the book has been out for three years, and there was a well-received 2014 film version, as well. So you’ve been duly warned.
Things haven’t gone very well for Nick and Amy, the last few years. They’ve lost their New York City writing jobs, their Manhattan brownstone, and they’ve mostly spent their way through Amy’s considerable trust fund. As a result, they’ve ended up in a generic and under-populated housing development full of McMansions in Nick’s boyhood hometown, North Carthage, Missouri. Nick co-owns a bar (ironically named “The Bar”) with his twin sister Margo — Go, for short — who’s one of only three likable characters in the entire novel.
The book opens the morning of Nick and Amy’s fifth anniversary. That’s the day that Amy goes missing, while Nick is out canoodling with his much-younger mistress (the reader doesn’t find out about her until later, though). Nick takes himself off to work to commiserate with his sister about his punishing bitch of a wife, and indulge in what’s clearly a long-standing habit of day-drinking.
The first part of the book unfolds like a classic noir whodunit, told in alternating he said/she said points of view. Nick whines and obfuscates, providing a counterpoint to Amy’s treacly diary entries — leaving the reader unsure who to sympathize with, and a bit baffled as to just what to believe regarding Amy’s disappearance, and Nick’s innocence or guilt.
Flynn deftly works with late-twentieth century American media/pop-culture addiction, our cultural fascination with stories of serial killers, our weakness for charming and handsome sociopaths who murder their wives and unborn children, and our craving for tidy justice all tied up with a bow and presented on the evening news (or a pithy Facebook meme) in time for media consumers to tsk over our morning coffees.
Gone Girl is ultimately about cannibalistic consumption — and thanks to the 24 hour news cycle, we’re not entirely sure the cannibalism is actually metaphorical until the very end. Amy’s parents cannibalize her childhood to write a popular series of children’s books, Nick and Amy devour one another’s best and most decent impulses, the public gobbles the scandalous story of a missing pregnant woman, and the reader consumes the novel.
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is a smart, sensational novel that’s completely unselfconscious about being deft, powerful, and skillfully manipulative.
(Crown Publishing Group, 2012)