Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Gone Girl

 by Gillian Flynn
Crown Publishers, 2012
419 pages     Fiction

What to say about Gone Girl? That I hated the characters! That I couldn't stop reading it! That I didn't peek ahead to the ending--not once! (Probably a new record for me.) I guess that I have to say that I had a love-hate relationship with this book, which I believe is just what Gillian Flynn had in mind.

Amy and Nick Dunne are a couple in their mid thirties and have been married for five years. As the book begins, they have moved from New York to Nick's hometown in Missouri, a place extremely alien to Amy's New York sensibilities. She is the beloved daughter of a pair of psychologist authors who documented their only child's life in a long series of children's books called Amazing Amy. Nick and Amy are a "golden" couple, both extremely good looking, both used to having life on their own terms. Both have just lost their jobs, and the trust fund that Amy has always drawn from is in jeopardy. The novel is the accounting of their lives after they moved to Missouri to take care of Nick's dying mother and rapidly failing father.

The story is told in alternating chapters and in three sections. Nick writes of finding Amy gone from their home on their fifth anniversary and each time he writes, we become more confused about how involved he was with her disappearance. Amy's chapters, in the first section of the book, are diary entries from the time that she met Nick until the fateful anniversary day. As we read her diary entries, we become more confused about who this woman is; the diary entries do not portray the same woman that Nick is describing.

Amy and Nick are very adept at playing mind games with each other, and the game has been pushed way beyond their own best interests and their own ability to rationally understand what they have done. At first, Nick seems to be the sane person because it is very difficult to believe Amy's diary entries. While it appears that Nick may have had something to do with Amy's disappearance, nothing seems to match up. By the time we begin the second section of the book, we are in total confusion and anxious for things to start sorting themselves out. But nothing in Gone Girl is as it seems, and as you turn more and more pages and hate the characters more with every page turn, your mind gets as crazy as Nick and Amy. 

As I was reading, I kept thinking "Who are these people?" There is no touch of reality in their characters. But then you watch a "Real Housewives" episode and suddenly there they are--they could be characters on a reality show. Flynn has done a great job of creating characters out of caricatures, much like the characters on Real Housewives are caricatures. Nick and Amy have invented themselves and each other. We recognize little bits of them in people we know or people we have seen in movies or on television. Nick muses, "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." How awful it must be to always be plotting, always be trying to remember the last lie, always recreating oneself. The Chicago Tribune reviewer speaks to this point: "Within this single novel, there are many warring stories: The stories Nick and Amy tell about themselves, the stories they tell each other. The stories others tell about them, and the stories they tell about each other. What's at stake is not simply factual truth but something more profound: Who holds the final power to write the story of the life this toxic couple shares.

Gillian Flynn is as good at mind games as Amy and Nick are. For her, as for Amy and Nick it is all pretend--a mind-blowing exercise, so well plotted that you can't put it down.  The New York Times review says,   "It is wily, mercurial, subtly layered and populated by characters so well imagined that they’re hard to part with — even if, as in Amy’s case, they are already departed." Flynn says in an interview that she often had the story line of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf in mind, and that makes sense. I had the same angry feelings toward Amy and Nick Dunne as I did toward Martha and George.

My sister said that she kept looking at the picture of the author
 to see if the author looked as crazy as the book, but the author's picture shows this lovely looking woman, the wife of a lawyer and the mother of a little boy. Flynn mentioned in an interview that her office is in the basement of her Chicago home, and that as she was writing the book, she would hear her husband moving around upstairs and have to take a deep breath before she went upstairs and be a sane woman in a sane relationship.

Most reviews speak of the power of the novel, but I particularly loved the dissident review on Book Forum. The reviewer calls Gone Girl a "masterpiece of cuckoo clockwork" and while she admired the writing, she hates the characters. Why? "Primarily the characters’ apparently everyday behavior—their motivations and how they view one another. Amy and Nick do not resemble actual people so much as grotesquely smiling masks driven by forces of extreme artifice, and it’s exactly that extreme artificial quality that’s frightening to the point of sickening." She calls it "Jezebel in book form."

As much as it is reminiscent of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, you haven't read this novel before. That is why it will be one of my favorite books of the year.

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