Any time a book goes viral I normally walk away from it—I was a reluctant Harry Potter reader at first (though this is blasphemy now), I refused to pick up 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight until years after their initial wave of success, and I really thought Gone Girl would go much the same way for me. Books shouldn’t be fads (for me) so I waited to see what the criticism was, how many people I knew read it, and who liked it—was it going to suit my needs? What was this book about that everyone loves it so much?
Gone Girl’s popularity ran so far ahead of it that you actually have to dig for it’s real purpose: it isn’t really about Nick or Amy, it’s really about human nature. Nick and Amy have a conflicted marriage—they were head-over-heels in love, great together, and then everything just slowly started to change until their marriage was just a series of motions they were going through. The fact that they seem to get a rise out of being as awful to one another as possible isn’t actually shocking—I can believe that a wife, vindictive and vengeful, would make her husband pay for his indiscretions—after all, it’s a headline that rears its ugly head every so often. Some might be shocked by the extent of Amy’s deranged game but I found it fascinating because Amy was so very real. Gillian Flynn has taken some flack from critics for having “bitchy” or atypical female characters who often play the bad guy and she gets accused of being anti-feminist. This is a highly unfair characterization: Flynn has made a delicious villain, but not an empty one.
Amy Elliot Dunne really is Amazing—there hasn’t been a villain in contemporary literature with this level of psychopathy that is still fairly charming and desirable since Hannibal Lector. Like Lector, we understand a little of why she has chosen the particular victim she has chosen—Nick Dunne is both likeable and an utter ass (you know the guy). No seriously, you know the guy. Everyone knows a Nick Dunne. Nick is a nice guy… sort of. He just does what can only be described as douche-y things. He doesn’t mean to be that way, but it just happens around him and he doesn’t like to acknowledge it. This doesn’t make him bad though, it just makes him Nick. We’ve all been there, actually—you know you should do _________, but you don’t, but admitting that is bad so you just make excuses, waste time, and oh no, I can’t do that, I have work in the morning, have to run. You dump things on people who don’t deserve to have this dumped on them. You can’t handle something at the very last second. You have one contact in your phone that you only call when you need something and never pick up for when they call you. But you’re still not a bad person. You’re just a little off sometimes and it can be unpleasant if misinterpreted. If people didn’t know you weren’t a bad guy they might get the wrong idea. If this whole thing was taken out of context you might come off just awful.
Ah, now you’ve got the hold of Nick.
I didn’t at all care for the casting of Nick in the recent Gone Girl movie adaptation because I didn’t find that Affleck gave me enough parts of Nick to like, whereas in the book I really did get a chance to see all the dimensions of Nick. And it’s not Nick so much as the dimensions that are important here—and Flynn does dimensions well.
Flynn started her career in journalism and I can tell by how she writes that she was always good at framing a story—Nick is a journalist too and he shows the same aptitude. Flynn presents us with a story mostly comprised of anecdotes from this couple’s life together that play in rhythm with the ongoing missing person’s case, a balance that I found really tasteful and really useful: I know so much about these characters, but I never felt like I was just being given facts, which a story relying on this much plot-reveal can often feel like. I don’t feel like Flynn is checking things off of a reveal list for me—the information seems very organic and the ability to contextualize the anecdotes for maximum impact isn’t easy. Anecdotes in a story like this are like one-line jokes: the context has to be perfect for the pay-off because otherwise it feels very random. Flynn knows what to attach a story to, be it a moment, be it a word, be it a vague gesture, and she does a great job taking us down the rabbit hole of a human mind that is wandering from topic to topic, letting itself meander without getting completely lost.
Gone Girl’s page count may seem intimidating but I only sat down 5 separate times to really read the book and managed to breeze through huge portions of it in that time. The writing is smooth and you don’t realize that you’ve devoured fifty pages until you look at the clock, realize you have misplaced a half hour, and then check out the numbers at the top of the page. Part of this is the mere fascination of seeing yourself reflected in this particular mirror—a mix of Nick and Amy and all the other secondary characters. They are all snippets of our best and worst selves but eloquently expanded on into real meaty characters.
Amy is a marvelous character—truly deviant and deluded and delicious. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Flynn pull on the Amazing Amy thread a little bit more because it seems like a juicy character to write. Nick serves a purpose: he’s the guy, you know, the guy who would inevitably be paired off with Amy. In their own demented way they are soul mates, a fact which they come to a startling realization of—a love that isn’t fully love, isn’t fully hatred, but does, in fact, suit both parties. As I am reluctant to give away too much of this tantalizing plot I will leave you with only the image of shock you will have when you reach the end: you will anticipate that you will be angry, or sad, or even happy, but the book does not make you feel any of those things. Rather, there is a feeling of fit and sense—it may not be the ending you want but it is the ending that was going to happen with who these very flawed characters are. And for my money, few people are writing flawed characters with this level of skill right now so I will probably be turning my eye to Dark Places and Sharp Objects before they become too popular to read.
Gillian Flynn is a former journalist turned creative writer with three best-selling books. Gone Girl is also an Oscar-nominated movie. Sharp Objects and Dark Places are Flynn’s other major novels currently in circulation, Dark Places has a movie adaptation coming out this year. She wrote the screenplay for Gone Girl and is currently helping to organize a one-shot series for Sharp Objects. She also has a fat black cat named Roy, two children, and a pretty cool sounding husband.