Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Date Added: June 14, 2013
Date Started: September 8, 2018
Date Finished: October 3, 2018
Reading Duration: 25 days
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller, Drama, Crime Drama, Psychological Drama
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.
One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.
Note: I’m going to split this into a Review section and an Analysis section. The Analysis section will contain spoilers, and I’ll post another warning prior.
I have to give Gillian Flynn props.
There is something…off about both Nick and Amy. Flynn does an excellent job laying the groundwork for this paradigm, but not rushing the reveal. It reaches the point where there’s no allegation too outlandish to consider, and that’s where the genius of Gone Girl lies. I thought I had it all figured out, but all of my formulated theories were wrong. The author is a master of the bait-and-switch misdirect, and I fell for all the red herrings.
Amy is the kind of person who’d wear me out after five seconds. That level of intensity is draining to my limited social battery. Also, her mien is abashedly childish. She seems like a little girl playing a role…which is exactly the author’s point and why her “Cool Girl” speech rings so true. It’s the perfect mask anyone with Imposter Syndrome would be proud to wear.
This is one of those novels where everyone is flawed, but fitting that description doesn’t mean you deserve to suffer. Media image is everything, though, and the ability to turn that to your advantage can mean the difference between pity and a prison sentence. The best defense in game of manipulation when the judges can see your every move is not only crafting the best story, but having the right props to support it.
The end of this novel initially pissed me off due to issues concerning justice (I elaborate on this in the Analysis section). Of course I know not all (in fact most in real life) situations don’t end justly, but in a narrative, writers make the conscious decision to withhold just deserts…in a world where that happens on a regular basis. The choice to do so makes a statement, and at first read, all of the implications were irritating AF. Once I had the benefit of time and the insights of other critiques, I was less annoyed. While it isn’t a creative decision I would make, it’s one I grudgingly respect, and I can’t penalize the author for taking her story in this direction. She doesn’t owe me or any other reader/critic shit.
The only real question is does the end of the narrative follow what came before; is it thematically sound? And the answer is yes. Flynn set out to make a particular statement about the truth, and that statement is it doesn’t matter. What’s true or false means dick all compared to what makes a good story, and the media and public will run with the latter every time. Considering my all time favorite story’s tragic plot (Final Fantasy VII for you first time visitors to this blog) hinges on what’s believed over what’s actually true, I’d be a gigantic hypocrite to berate Flynn for demonstrating this motif in contemporary fiction. She set out to show how we will devour not only the image of an individual, but the person themselves, consuming only want contents us and leaves them broken beyond compare to continue the toxic cycle.
*******Spoilers to follow*******
Truth doesn’t matter. All that matters is a good story.
The axis around which the story of Gone Girl operates is Amy’s desire to control her own narrative for the first time in her life. The lack of such for her entire life has literally driven her to this point, and it implicates some deeply philosophical underpinnings about choice, free will, and agency. This is not to say that people aren’t and shouldn’t be responsible for their actions (I’m not getting into a “does free will truly exist” argument here), but like with many of the better narratives, Flynn’s novel highlights the reasons behind malignant behavior without necessarily asking us to forgive it.
As the inspiration for her parents’ book series Amazing Amy, corporeal Amy has literally had her story stolen from her and commodified. While everyone, especially women, are expected to live up to an impossible ideal, it’s exponentially more so for “regular” Amy in the face of the “Amazing” version of her. It’s why her mien comes off as so childish; she is a little girl playing a role. This is blatantly revealed in how she keeps writing “I’m a wife!” in her diary entry, which is something else odd for an adult woman. This is not a critique on having someplace to write your thoughts (I’m literally writing this review on my blog), but as the novel is set in the 2010’s, it seems almost old-fashioned. If Amy can’t be quite “Amazing,” she has at least figured out how to be “Cool.” But like a character from a book, the real Amy did expect marriage would lead to a happy ending. Considering her parents’ financial troubles due to poor sales of Amazing Amy, her life may be more parallel to the series than first believed.
The back and forth between present day Nick and past Amy makes for a riveting narrative. It shows the descent you don’t expect from falling in love and how the expectation of typical (re: het/monogamous) relationships are a complete and utter crapshoot. No one really knows each other when they first start, and by the time you do, it’s too late to exit gracefully. Someone is going to get hurt whether that be emotionally or physically. We fall in love with the idea of what the person will be, and circumstances often make it difficult to bounce when that idea doesn’t match up to the reality…which it rarely does. This isn’t me saying good relationships don’t exist or are impossible, but far too many people stay in ones they otherwise wouldn’t if they had the agency to leave.
Some stories require both the benefit of time and an outside perspective in order to see them clear. When I first finished the Final Fantasy VII Remake, I was extremely pissed off because I saw the ending as a blatant “fuck you” to the original fans. But then I had a long conversation with my good friend and fellow traveler of this most heinous timeline EWE and that really helped put things into perspective. The end of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl enraged me for the exact same reasons as the ending of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (though I now have new reasons to be furious with the author herself), but with three years between and an insightful retrospective by Earthling Cinema, my thoughts have shifted.
It doesn’t matter what’s true; it only matters what people believe, and if you can sway the public towards sympathizing with your plight, you have all of the power.
Nick is by no means innocent of wrongdoing; however, his transgressions are the stereotypical sins of a cis het man i.e. cheating, whereas Amy is dealing in one of the most malicious forms of psychological abuse ever committed to page or film. While both Nick and Amy are terrible people, the former doesn’t deserve to be trapped in an abusive relationship, and I think Flynn purposely did this in order to flip the script not only about who the abuser was in a heteronormative relationship, but also the manner of it. The author doesn’t let either of them escape smelling like roses, which just makes it more deliciously complex. Nick is (initially) only guilty of being a cheating husband; however, he becomes physically abusive after Amy is no longer “gone,” attempting to strangle her, and once more bringing up the prior mentioned paradigm of “reasons” as opposed to “excuses.” There is no excuse for physical violence against one’s partner. Periodt.
My visceral reaction to the end of this novel was pure, unadulterated rage, because I hate when people don’t get their comeuppance (re: The Lovely Bones again), and my initial thought was the author was going for the idea of “poison deserves poison so they don’t corrupt the world.” I saw Amy as a spoiled, rich bitch who was used to getting what she wanted all the time. Up until the second part, I fell for the bait-and-switch and thought that Nick had killed her, and even when Amy was revealed as the mastermind behind her own disappearance, I still felt sympathy for her when she was robbed in the motel. However, she was still able to use her conventional (re: thin and white) beauty to manipulate people including her ex-boyfriend Desi (played by NPH in the movie ♥) whom she stays with after the other people at the motel find out she has money and steal it. He pays for insipid kindness with his life, and Amy literally TW: self-inflicted genital mutilation *ravages her own vagina with a broken bottle to make it look like Desi raped her then kills him out of “self-defense.”* Throughout all of this I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and for Amy to finally receive her comeuppance…but it never came.
Flynn’s explanation initially only served to enrage me more. She insisted people wouldn’t want to see Amy in prison. The fuck we wouldn’t, but then…I had to remember what Amy is and what she represents as a thin, white, conventionally attractive woman: the perfect victim. Of course I (none of those things except for female) want to see her receive some punishment, since that so rarely happens. I also viewed it as lending credence to the tired, misogynistic idea that women are lying, manipulative bitches who will falsely accuse men of rape and murder in order to get their way. We already have problems being believed (I was also reading this around the time of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation when Dr. Christine Blaisey-Ford bravely testified against him), and I saw Gone Girl supporting this false narrative, but…this is why it either benefits taking time before review or revising an outdated point of view afterwards. I’m glad it’s been over three years since I finished, and I’ve also read and watched takes like the video from Earthling Cinema above. Flynn was revealing how things are i.e. the way you’re seen is far more important than your true self, employing the technique of “show something is bad by merely showing it, and if Viewers Are Geniuses, they’ll understand what I’m trying to say.” It’s similar to how GRRM reveals the horrors of war by showing war, and Shakespeare attempted similar in his “worst” play Titus Andronicus (I am by no means trying to speak to Authorial Intent; I’m just offering up critical observations in light of what Flynn herself has stated).
Gone Girl is one of those stories that works on the principle of unlikable characters in order to hold up a mirror to the culture that created them. The pressure put on women to be both perfect and “cool” helped shape Amy into what she became. Of course I could make murmurings about “nature” and “nurture,” since Amy’s parents certainly facilitated her antisocial tendencies in their “Amazing Amy” series, something the real Amy could never live up to. I’m not interesting anymore in assigning fault/blame within this narrative; I don’t think it’s useful or what’s really meant to be highlighted. It’s more important to note how we got here, which Flynn is unequivocally clear on, but it’s also still okay to hate Amy and/or Nick. I’m becoming less sold on the idea of free will, but I still have no patience for lack of compassion, which Amy certainly showcases; however, it would be intellectually dishonest to abhor only the results of a toxic culture without reading the culture itself for filth.