Thursday, February 21, 2013

Love a Dangerous Game in "Gone Girl"

Boy meets girl; beautiful, blonde, accomplished, from a semi-famous family. Girl meets boy; handsome, southern charm, writer’s aspirations, a romantic at the right time in the right place. This perfect couple come together in the streets of New York, as so many do, but when the Dunnes are presented to the reader, the recession has hit and Nick and Amy are living in Missouri, his home state. It is their fifth wedding anniversary and Amy is missing. Within the first ten pages of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn there is an abundance of lies, blood, and questions.

The state of the couple’s house suggests that Amy has been killed and Nick’s cagey demeanor, both as a narrator and with the cops, fuels the common deduction that when the wife’s been killed, the husband did it. The riddles Amy has left for their traditional anniversary scavenger hunt become more and more incriminating and as the pages turn even Nick’s twin begins to doubt his innocence.

The dramatic architecture of this novel is exceptional. The first section is told from Nick’s point of view, but the chapters alternate between him and his wife’s diary entries. As the reader gets to know Nick personally, Amy’s version of her husband is also provided; complicating our understanding of both characters. Nick’s voice is present day with occasional flashbacks, while Amy’s diary entries begin the day they met and slowly build toward the blood pool on the kitchen floor. To give away more of the structure would be to ruin much of the novel’s suspense. Suffice it to say that my opinions of the characters were turned on their head more than once and that the book was nearly impossible to put down.

Flynn has a canny eye for personality with an edge. Her narrative despises pushovers and the implication is that only the tough and wily survive. Whether they do so and are happy is a lingering mystery. Many of the peripheral characters are sketched with too much caricature, but Nick and Amy are the driving force of this novel and their complexities are enthralling.

Gone Girl cleverly uses the recession as a backdrop for its drama. What happens to the bright ambitions of two smart, beautiful people when their financial expectations are irrevocably altered? Who can they fall back on if their parents are leaning on them either for care or for money? Is a partnership of love enough to see you through? Gone Girl is a fairly terrifying answer to this hypothetical. But unlike Tana French’s excellent mystery Broken Harbor, which addresses the same quandary, this story feels particular to the characters Flynn has created, as opposed to speaking more broadly to the delicate psyches we all possess.

I am not partial to the suspense genre (probably because I am a not-so-latent book snob) but I do love being pulled through a book at rapid fire pace, and Flynn accomplishes this expertly and with a keen eye trained on the driving force of human desire and human weakness. If you are a fan of this type of novel, I think you will find Gone Girl to be extremely winning. If not, you now have the perfect bewitching read to distract you during an international flight or a sleepless night.

3 comments:

  1. I agree w/ you about halfway, Frances. Gone Girl is a tour de force of writing, structure and plotting. It is also, imo, a miserable book to read. I found turning each page to be a chore, a decision point about whether to continue, which is kind of a bad thing for a "page turner." Flynn's world contains no sunshine. The main characters are both horrible people, impossible to root for or care about, and their marriage is both toxic and depressing. I guess the lesson is that technical virtuosity w/out heart is, well, heartless, or maybe soulless.

    You get to the nub of things with this:

    "Her narrative despises pushovers and the implication is that only the tough and wily survive. Whether they do so and are happy is a lingering mystery." The problem is that their happiness is not a lingering mystery: They are about as unhappy and dysfunctional as it's possible to be short of suicide, so what's the point of all that supposed toughness and wiliness?

    Given this book's press/buzz, reading it was a disappointment but it was how tortuous the experience became that really pushed this one into a different category for me. Yuck.

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  2. Whoops, sorry. I thought the comment would post w/ my name, not my nickname.

    jeff bernfeld

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