It’s difficult to review this book without giving away spoilers, but here goes. Gone Girl is a gripping psychological thriller about the after-shocks of a toxic marriage, but it’s much more than that. It’s like a hall of mirrors or a series of optical illusions. Just when you think you have the two main characters figured out, Gillian Flynn delivers a punch to the gut.
Flynn spends the first part of the book meticulously constructing a complex mosaic, then she tears it down and reconstructs it. And then…well I can’t say what happens without revealing spoilers.
The story begins on the morning of the 5th anniversary of Nick Dunne’s marriage to Amy Elliott Dunne. The scene is deceptively normal. Amy is making crepes as Nick enters the kitchen. The only thing off-kilter is the song she is humming: the theme from MASH (suicide is painless). Nick goes off to work. He manages a bar with his twin sister, Margo. The bar was purchased with the remains of Amy’s trust fund. In the middle of the day he receives a call from a neighbor. Someone has apparently broken into their home.
Things happen rapidly from there. Amy is missing. Furniture has been overturned, indicating a struggle. As police begin to investigate, the reader learns some disturbing things about Nick.
Flynn tells the story in alternating point-of-view chapters, first from Nick’s point of view and then from Amy’s, through a diary that dates back seven years. Amy is the daughter of two child psychologists who gained fame with a series of children’s books centered on Amazing Amy, based on their daughter. The real Amy, though, is nothing like her fictional namesake.
Amy meets Nick at a party in New York City, where they both work for magazines. He loses her number, but they meet again seven months later and fall in love. They marry and it seems like a dream marriage, until they both lose their jobs. Amy loans her trust fund money back to her parents after they make a series of bad financial decisions.
The couple is forced to move to Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri, where Nick’s beloved mother is dying of cancer. They live in a rented McMansion in a half-finished subdivision along the Mississippi River. Amy is unmoored and unhinged. Nick is distant and uncommunicative, traits he despised in his own father.
Like many communities, North Carthage is ravaged by the bad economy. Its economic pillar, a tourist destination shopping mall, sits empty and becomes home to drug dealers and vagrants. The bar in which Nick and his sister invest, called The Bar, seems like the only sensible bet in town.
As events unfold, Flynn cleverly drops bombshells that cause the reader to shift loyalties among the two main characters. It wasn’t until about the halfway point that I figured out where my sympathies truly lied and I can’t say why without giving away key plot points.
I found the main lesson of the story centers on the natural human tendency to develop a persona to please another person. That is what Nick and Amy did and that was their undoing as a couple. It is especially challenging to be true to one’s self in this age of social media, where people can reinvent themselves and create a persona of their liking. This notion is not lost on Nick, who reflects at one point, “It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless automat of characters.”
Gone Girl garnered much hype in the months after its release. I’m skeptical of over-hyped books, but in this case, Gone Girl lives up to the buzz.