Gone Girl Deserving of Accolades

GONE GIRL (2012)
By Gillian Flynn
Crown 9780307588364
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Most movie fans would pick the shower scene from Psycho as director Alfred Hitchcock’s most horrifying film moment. Maybe, but Hitchcock made his reputation as a master of psychological horror and suspense, not overt bloodiness. He understood that life’s most frightening moments are those in which we don’t know what’s going on and begin to imagine all manner of terrifying possibilities. Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl is much in this vein. It’s scarier than anything Stephen King ever wrote, though it’s not a book in which foreboding killers emerge from dark recesses, and the only monsters are internal.

An old adage holds that things that look too good to be true probably aren’t. This is certainly the case of Gone Girl’s protagonists Nick and Amy Dunne. Nick is a devastatingly handsome man of simple virtues, and Amy is beautiful and whip smart. In fact, on the surface she is the grown up version of Amazing Amy, the series name of best-selling children’s books penned by her psychologist parents, Rand and Marybeth. Not coincidentally, royalties on those books inflated Amy’s trust fund/dowry. When Nick and Amy marry, it’s like a royal wedding. Replace the castle with a restored Brooklyn brownstone overlooking the Manhattan skyline, and aristocratic hideaways with the limitless glamour available to rich, young New Yorkers madly in love, and the royalty analogy comes into sharper focus. The only problem is that Nick and Amy’s marriage is actually more Charles and Diana than William and Kate.

Things begin to unravel when Nick convinces Amy to leave the city and settle into the Dunne family homestead in North Carthage, Missouri, to care for Nick’s mother, who is dying of cancer. North Carthage has already passed on–a Mississippi River corpse just outside of Mark Twain’s boyhood home of Hannibal that can’t even sustain a mall. (It’s likely that the model is Hannibal, as the real Carthage, MO is on the other side of the state near Joplin. It’s also consistent with my observations of today’s Hannibal.) Amy ends up being the solo nursemaid, as Nick and his soul mate sister Margo are busy running a bar purchased with the last of Amy’s trust fund money. We also quickly sense that Amy has grown bored with Nick, who isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. She has nothing to do once Mrs. Dunne passes, and it’s as if she’s an exotic fish gasping for air after jumping from her backwater tank. Nick is oblivious to Amy’s deep unhappiness. On their fifth anniversary, he faithfully fixes her a nice breakfast, trudges off to work, and returns to find her gone.

Unraveling Amy’s fate is the core of the novel, and all signs–including a series of enigmatic scavenger hunt clues left by Amy–point to murder at Nick’s hands. What unfolds next is complex and creepy. Whatever you do, do not leaf through the book’s final chapters to find out what happens because the journey on which Flynn takes us is a giant puzzle whose pieces we must assemble one at a time. Don’t trust what you think you see or foresee, as very little is as it seems. This includes the personalities of most of the book’s characters. There are so many red herrings in this book that the reader often experiences existential dread analogous to the viewer of a Hitchcock film. I imagined murder motives running the gamut from Oedipal jealousy to filicide to psychopathic obsession, and I’m not commenting on my sleuthing skills! Let’s just say that truth is elusive, no matter who purports to utter it.

Flynn is a talented storyteller, which is essential when your narrative is populated by characters that routinely spin yarns of dubious authenticity. She tantalizes us with clues, adds appropriate touches of humor to keep the tone from becoming too somber, and manages to make even implausible clues seem possible. (That’s another Hitchcock trait!) She also makes us care about or loathe the book’s characters so intensely that we feel the same emotions as they, right down to imagining suitable revenge scenarios.

This is the proverbial page-turner. Gone Girl showed up on just about every book critic’s list of top books for 2012, and deservedly so. Two things will happen when you finish this book. First, you’ll wish it had been longer. Second, you’ll feel so soiled you’ll wish to take a long, cleansing shower, Psycho notwithstanding.   --Rob Weir

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this psychological thriller. Although I was pretty sure I knew what was going on, I was riveted because it had me thinking how so close to real life it truly is!