Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne disappears from their Missouri home--and her husband, Nick, looks like the reason.

Nick scrambles to find a suitable alibi, desperately redirecting the investigation towards any suspect but himself. Meanwhile, Amy's diary entries reveal a portrait of a marriage gone sour. Gracious wife, beloved only child, the inspiration for an award-winning book series--it is unthinkable that anyone could wish harm on such a lovely woman.

But Nick has harbored resentment against his bride for years, envious of her inherited wealth, exasperated by her city-girl lifestyle. As his excuses run thin and his secrets come to light, all the signs point to his guilt.

But no one can answer the question: what happened to Amy?

  4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)
 Dear reader, before we begin, it is imperative that you know I cannot grump about Gone Girl without spoiling the entire book for you. I'll do a short general thoughts section now, which is safe to read. But if you haven't yet read the book and think you might, then for the love of spoilers (and out of respect for the book's mystery) don't scroll past the triple stars.

I have had a difficult time assigning a rating to Gone Girl. It is, without a doubt, a masterfully crafted piece of fiction. The writing is vivid, the characterizations are lively and complex, the slow unspooling of the central question at its heart--what happened to Amy?--had me turning pages until well after midnight. (Again.) It's an eerie and gripping story.

It also left me with a certain amount of malaise that makes it hard to rate it on an "enjoyability" scale. I did not enjoy the direction the story took halfway through. On the other hand, I did love the ending. And that's all I can say about that without ruining the book.

In the end, I do recommend it to you, dear reader. It is such a well-told mystery and such a spirited story that to do otherwise would be a disservice.

(Step back, I'm about to spoil the entire book!)

(This is your final warning!)

(Alright, I tried.)

I knew nothing about Gone Girl when I picked it up, except that the friend who suggested it said it was a great portrait of marriage. (Which it is.) I don't read summaries or back covers if a book has been recommended to me; I take it on faith and let the book speak for itself.

As I read, I was playing a guessing game as to what kind of book this was going to be. Was this the story of the narrator murdering his wife, with the plot being how long until his guilt is revealed? Nick is obviously hiding things, after all, and lying through his teeth to the reader as well as to his fellow characters. Or was this to be a case of "this isn't what it looks like," despite all evidence pointing to Nick's guilt?

Those who have read the book know it's the latter case. Nick is certainly guilty of something (in this case, adultery) but not of murder.
I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.

It's a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters. 

And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because we don't have genuine souls. 

It had gotten to the point where it seemed like nothing else matters, because I'm not a real person and neither is anyone else. I would have done anything to feel real again.
My friend's remark about the book as a depiction of marriage is entirely accurate. Between the two perspectives--Nick's narration and Amy's predated diary entries--we see the daily push and pull of a relationship: how the same events can be given entirely different meaning when colored by each partner's preconceptions, how hard it is to believe in one another. My heart broke over Amy's diary. As the investigation goes on and Nick's sins become clear, Amy's memories reveal how hard she was trying to make their marriage work--oblivious to her husband's infidelity.

Of course, it's all a big fat lie. Halfway through Gone Girl, the reader learns that Amy's diary is a work of fiction, written by the the very-much-alive Amy to frame Nick for her "murder."

Here I want to give kudos to the author, Gillian Flynn, for having told a story with not one, but two unreliable narrators--and for doing so without getting the reader confused or tangling up the story. That's quite a feat.

That bit of trickeration is the heart of the mystery. It's also where I withdrew my heart from the book. I had fallen absolutely in love with Amy--exactly as the author intended. I don't relish being fooled by a book, at least on an emotional level. Books that are tricksy-turny with their plots are generally great, if I walk away in awe of the characters' cleverness (and that of the author.) It's not the same as being conned into liking a character, much less grieving for them. I lost my engagement with the text in that moment. I felt like like Flynn was dancing back and forth going "Neener neener, I tricked you!"

Not cool, bro.

The book abruptly ceases to have a protagonist--or rather, the reader learns it never had one. Instead, it is about two reprehensible people trying to outwit each other, neither of whom we like, neither of whom we want to see succeed.

Out of this repugnant mess, though, Flynn does steal a satisfying ending. Thankfully, nobody "wins" in Gone Girl. They're just punished--with each other. (And what else do they deserve?)
Nick and I fit together. I am a little too much, and he is a little too little. I am a thornbush, bristling from the overattention of my parents, and he is a man of a million little fatherly stab wounds, and my thorns fit perfectly into them.
I read the final seventeen pages at a gallop, waiting to the outcome of their final round of backstabbing and manipulation. I wish that Flynn had expanded that section and shortened the leadup. Instead of dividing the book into 50% emotionally attached + 48% disgusted + 2% re-engaged, she could have split it 50% + 25% + 25%.  But what do I know, I'm just the one who had to read it.

It's so well written. Maybe I'm a goober for wanting books to be enjoyable as well.

Thanks to Traci for the second book in a row about terrible marriages!

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