“This is the hardest part,” confides one of the untrustworthy narrators in Gone Girl, the latest novel to disappointment me in a string of summer blahs this summer, “is waiting for stupid people to figure things out.” There’s no need to rub it in, because Gillian Flynn’s latest novel of psychological suspense will confound anyone trying to keep up with her and her diabolical rules of play. That would be a great trait of the thriller- if I cared. The problem was I could not care less. The longer I read the harder it was for me too keep blundering through the chapters and feign off resistance to picking up something else- as I would gaze longingly at my bedside table at “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter. (I am reading it now. It’s marvelous.)
Not that there’s anything underhanded about her intentions: she promises to deliver an account of the troubled marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne, who alternate as narrators, and so she does. But it’s not a novel about marriage, like many critics say, it is about two people with sociopath tendencies that make each miserable- including the reader, little old me.
It begins with Nick’s description of his morning on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary. Nick and Amy were once bon vivant magazine writers in New York, but the print media implosion put an end to their posh Manhattan life, and for a variety of reasons (“Blame the economy, blame bad luck, blame my parents, blame your parents, blame the Internet, blame people who use the Internet”) they end up in Carthage, Missouri with Nick running a dive bar (using the remainder of Amy’s recently obliterated trust fund) with his sister Margo. Later that day, Amy disappears from their house, leaving behind signs of a bloody struggle. Oh my! The police, and eventually the TV viewers around the country, come to suspect Nick as his wife’s murderer.
The second chapter is from Amy’s diary, seven years before her disappearance, in which she giddily describes meeting the handsome and funny Nick at a party in Brooklyn. And so the chapters go, alternating between Nick’s account of his life after Amy’s disappearance, and Amy’s diaries entries leading up to the “event”. This is a suspense novel and things aren’t necessarily what they seem (or are they?) and there are major twists and surprises along the way. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Even as a straight-ahead thriller, Gillian Flynn’s novel succeeds with a tight plot that’s easy to follow but far from rich. However, I will concede to enjoying Flynn’s dark sense of humor and cultural observations. I especially enjoyed and related too Amy’s rant about “cool girls.” Here’s an excerpt:
“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl. Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men — friends, coworkers, strangers — giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them”.
However, as messed up as Flynn’s characters are, they are still not believable, or unpredictable (even to themselves) or complex, and that doesn’t keep things interesting. They feel like freakish caricatures. Unlike Tony Soprano (a thug murderer), or Mad Men’s Don Draper (a manipulative jerk) who still reveal a shred of humanity often enough so that you can relate to them, Amy and Nick float on the surface and even in their darkest moments they’re still too shallow. Hey I like dark, I like reading unlikable characters, the problem is- you have to like to unlike them. Does anyone know what I mean? Yes, we all have some element of a dark side in us and relating your darkest bits to macabre characters can be extremely illuminating to oneself- but this is not the case in Flynn’s Gone Girl. Why am I using T.V. characters as an analogy? The novel reads like some teleplay from a bad Lifetime movie. Oooo ouch. FYI: Reese Witherspoon just bought the movie rights!
As much I enjoyed being inside a psychopath’s head (sorry no spoiler’s here) I am still befuddled by its popularity. Instead I recommend reading Adam Ross’s Mr. Peanut– a true thriller about a dysfunctional marriage, that makes the reader squirm, unlike Flynn’s where it is just the characters squirming) because the darkness he presents is possible in all of us and frighteningly relatable.
I am willing, however, to pull my reviewer lens back and pontificate on this book’s vision of romantic love briefly. In most romance novels, intimacy is the treasured goal. No matter what the era, men and women find their bliss when they know and are known for who they truly are. But, in the “real” world, intimacy is more fraught. As lovers grow closer, they become less the people they want to seem and more the people they actually are. Sometimes this is marvelous. Sometimes it creates utter ruination. Many times, it’s just hard and couples get through it. We are a flexible species–always adapting to meet our needs–and we recalibrate our views and expectations of that someone we’ve chosen to love. In Gone Girl, Amy’s and Nick’s ultimate goal is to show the reader the real person the other is. I wish that were the case here, but unfortunately I believe you’ve all been tricked- it doesn’t come close to revealing a darn thing. But then again who am I? I despised The Paris Wife and I put Fifty Shades of Grey in the store bathroom.