This is going to be a short review. Not because I didn’t thoroughly enjoy Gillian Flynn’s runaway best seller, Gone Girl, but because I did. Because writing even little details about this entertaining thriller would potentially give away something that would best be discovered by the reader, and that would be a crime in and of itself.
Suffice it to say, this is a darned good book.
I guess it wouldn’t be giving too much away to set the stage of the story: Nick Dunne has returned to his boyhood home of North Carthage, Missouri after losing his job as a pop culture writer for a struggling magazine. The entire magazine industry is in a freefall, doomed to our internet culture, and with no jobs available in his adopted stomping grounds in New York, Nick retreats to his hometown to help his sister, Margo (his twin, known to all as “Go”, who has also recently lost her job due to the recession) take care of his aging parents: a mother who succumbs to cancer shortly after his return and a bitter father who is sliding deep into dementia. As a livelihood, he has borrowed deeply from his New York native wife, Amy, and opened a bar in North Carthage with Go as partner. The bar, simply named “The Bar”, is not a huge success but for mellow Nick, it’s good enough for now.
For his socialite wife, Amy, though, it’s been a hard adjustment. Nick didn’t know that Amy was so entrenched when they got married; it turns out she is the sole offspring of a team of successful writers who based an entire children’s series of bestselling books on their beloved daughter: Amazing Amy roughly paralleled real life Amy’s growth and development, petering off when Amy herself outgrew childish things. Try as she might to ingratiate herself into small town Midwestern life, for the first time, Amy simply is out of her element.
As their fifth year anniversary approaches, the cracks in Nick and Amy’s relationship start to show. Nick’s lack of initiative and Amy’s loss of mooring push them farther apart, even though they have managed to pointedly ignore the drift. Then one day – on their anniversary – Nick returns home to find Amy gone. The front door is wide open, the ironing has been abandoned with the iron still on, and there are signs of a struggle with broken glass scattered all over the living room and furniture overturned.
The police are called, and as it becomes increasingly clear that Amy is missing, detectives are brought in. But as time continues to tick by, as minutes become hours and hours become days with still no sign of or word from Amy, with no clues as to who may have taken her, suspicions mount, tempers flare and emotions run hot and cold. One thing appears certain, though – Amy Dunne has met with a violent end. But how, and why?
I can’t share anything more, not really. But how the investigation unfolds, how it impacts Nick, Go, Amy’s parents and the now riveted North Carthage community is gripping and unflinching. The characters become fully realized (Amy through her diary); even the detectives assigned to the case – Jim Gilpin and Rhonda Boney – find their place in the narrative beyond first impressions. But it is Nick that we get to know the best: flawed, beaten, poetic Nick, who realizes too much, too late.
I sat in the doorstep of a vacant storefront. It occurred to me that I had brought Amy to the end of everything. We were literally experiencing the end of a way of life, a phrase I’d applied only to New Guinea tribesmen and Appalachian glassblowers. The recession had ended the mall. Computers had ended the Blue Book plant. Carthage had gone bust; its sister city Hannibal was losing ground to brighter, louder, cartoonier tourist spots. My beloved Mississippi River was being eaten in reverse by Asian carp flip-flopping their way up toward Lake Michigan. “Amazing Amy” was done. It was the end of my career, the end of hers, the end of my father, the end of my mom. The end of our marriage. The end of Amy.
The writing in Gone Girl is both reflective, and tense. The twists and turns of the plot unfold in ways both surprising and unsettlingly realistic. The modern theater of the investigation, played out in the media, is in itself crass and frightening both in the crime and in society’s reaction to it. Those of us reading the book can easily apply the actions of the book to real life missing persons investigations that play out in our evening news broadcasts, in our social media postings; we are forced to relate to what is happening to Nick, even as we may recoil from it.
I’m not going to say anything else about the book; you will want to discover the rest – and there’s a lot – for yourself. But keep in mind that Gone Girl has been on bestseller lists for over a year. Sometimes books find themselves on bestseller lists for dubious reasons, but not in this case. There’s a very good reason lots of people have wanted to read this book, and have ended up buying it – it’s that good.
It really is THAT good.