Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Amazon summary: “On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? 
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?”

This book was fantastic. The pacing was spot-on, the plot fascinating and realistic, and the characters are… well, they are something to behold. I really want to avoid spoiling it, so I’m going to put the rest of this review behind a cut. I’m still not going to include any obvious spoilers, but I will be talking about the characters in a way that requires having read the whole book to come to the conclusions I did — so. Click through at your own risk!

Note: The start of 2013 marks the start of the Cannonball Read V, which is the newest edition of the read-a-thon I participated in last year! So expect to be seeing the reviews again regularly, since I'll be back in the swing of things.

Wow. So, crazy, right? To be more clear: neither of these are really great people. Amy is rather uniquely conniving, but I, at least, still didn’t wind up having much sympathy for Nick. Flynn does something really sneaky here, which is that she gets you to identify with Amy and dislike Nick before really exploring Amy’s flaws (a word I use very generously.) Before we actually get any of Amy’s first person POV, Nick reads a diary of hers in which she is simply, patently nice. You initially wonder why Nick had so much bile for her, but he becomes slowly constructed as someone who is perhaps not a complete fratty douchebag, but at least directly adjacent to that. So you get the idea that he wouldn’t be satisfied with anyone, and the dissolution of their marriage is basically totally his fault, right?

When you get to Amy’s POV, though, you learn that she’s not as entirely placid as the diary would have you believe; however — especially as a woman — you still think you understand her because almost all of us have felt that conflict with at least one man in our lives where we had to just take a deep breath and let things go, blunt our personalities, and wear a gentler facade. Ideally that man is not the person you’ve chosen a long term relationship with, but unfortunately, a lot of us have done that too before realizing he’s not worth your metaphorical lobotomy. To that effect, there’s a particular passage from Amy’s point of view that I wanted to inscribe on every bathroom wall so that all of womankind could read it:
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. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be.
This is another example of brilliant development by Flynn, because while on the one hand the passage is so full of blunt, relate-able truth, it also is a key point in Amy’s unpacking: the fact that she lived and wrote a diary as a Cool Girl while feeling this way indicates that she’s definitely capable of duplicity and self-deception. As the reader, you’re fistbumping her while simultaneously thinking, “Ooh, wait. This girl is up to something and it looks like no good.” It’s a pretty uncomfortable place to be in, especially as the story gets way more dark and twisted, and you realize, “Fuck, she’s awful.” She’s awful, but you also agreed with her sometimes. What does that say about you?

Anyway, I highly recommend this one, both for the escapist murder-mystery plot and for the psychological squickiness. I’ve read a lot of dark stories, but this one had a way of affecting me and my perceptions that made it so much more engrossing.

1 comment:

  1. I was apprehensive about the book...having read all other' c'mon, it can't be that shocking can it? But it seriously really is...
    Every story does have two sides to it....two very sick twisted and shocking sides...