Happy New Year, folks! I’m back after an extended break for Christmas travels and family visits. Speaking of Christmas travels, on our very long road trip, Chris and I listened to the audiobook of Gillian Flynn’s marital mystery thriller, Gone Girl. It was riveting, all 19 hours of it (well, maybe except for parts of the last act). Flynn creates such finely-etched characters and vivid circumstances that, even after a two-week break in our listening, all the details were still fresh in our minds. As you’ve probably already heard, Amy Elliot Dunn is one of the most memorable narrators in recent fiction. She’s fiercely intelligent, defiantly feminist, and occasionally lacking in self-awareness, all at once. The book alternates between Amy and her husband Nick’s narration of events. In the first act, the disconnect between these two perspectives creates the suspense of the novel. It’s not really giving anything away to say that Amy disappears at the beginning of the book; most of the story centers around the mystery of her disappearance and Nick’s possible involvement.
Flynn excels at describing the subtle ways in which two people who know each other really well can wound each other – the silences; the unspoken expressions of disappointments; the small punishments meted out. Her portrait of a disintegrating marriage takes on larger issues as well: the death of print journalism and the voracious appetite of 24-hour news media; the 2008 economic crisis; small towns on the verge of collapse. Both Nick and Amy lose their jobs as writers in New York City, and they return to Nick’s hometown in Missouri. Carthage is a small town ravaged by the economic crisis, with whole neighborhoods in foreclosure and a shuttered mall full of squatters – young men out of work after the closure of a local plant that manufactured those now obsolete blue examination booklets. The media come into play both as tools and antagonists during the investigation into Amy’s disappearance.
SPOILER ALERT (for the rest of the post, really): Some of the broader societal issues fall by the wayside once Flynn reveals the extent of Amy’s Leave Her To Heaven-ish self-absorption and craziness. We may distance ourselves from Amy and write her off as psychotic, but Flynn still gives us moments when we nod our heads in agreement with her, when we cheer her on: when Amy rails against “cool girls” and how women are forced to shut off their brains and become people they’re not in order to appeal to men, her feminist fury is, to borrow Nick’s term, “righteous.” The lengths to which Amy goes to frame Nick are frightening and breathtaking. If her ability to cover all her bases starts to feel unrealistic, I’m not sure if that’s because it actually is or because, even in this age of cable anti-heroes, we’re still accustomed to the bad guy/gal slipping up and getting caught.
The last act of the book is a combination of gothic horror story and domestic tragedy. Amy essentially traps Nick in their marriage, a toxic prison that she’s methodically, patiently constructed. Their future together is a heartbreaking scenario, especially when you consider the impending birth of their child. Nick will basically turn into his father – misogynistic, angry, ready to explode; Amy – the diabolically clever, ruthless puppet master; and an innocent child, caught in the middle of and sure to be damaged by their psychodrama.
Since the film adaptation of Gone Girl is in development, with Reese Witherspoon producing and Flynn writing the screenplay, I can’t resist playing the casting game: my top choices for the frat boy handsome, slightly shifty Nick are Bradley Cooper, Armie Hammer, and Gabriel Macht. And Reese, Julia Stiles, or Emily Blunt (although she’s a bit young for the role) could combine Amy’s surface sweetness and her true malevolence. Chime in with your casting ideas and other thoughts about the book in the comments section below!