Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The buzz about Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl started in the spring with advanced reviews.  It was on nearly every book and entertainment publication as THE must read of the summer. I was so glad that The Gables Book group decided to read this for our September book. A word of caution. Do not start the book unless you can devote all waking hours to reading it. It is, in the true sense of the words, a page turner. Flynn hooks you from the very beginning and then keeps you on the edge of your chair as she weaves one of the most unpredictable psychological thrillers that I have read. 
The reader meets Nick Dunne the morning of his fifth anniversary. He describes his recent move from New York City to North Carthage, MO - how he and his wife Amy had both lost their job, how his mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, how he and his sister Margo (Go) opened THE BAR, and how unhappy his wife was. Immediately we get the hint that this marriage is not on solid ground. And then the scene is set - Amy has disappeared from their house and everything implicates Nick. Using alternating chapters by Nick as he goes through each day's happenings from the time of her disappearance and Amy's diary from the time she met Nick at a NYC party, Flynn's gripping description of two people trapped in a marriage built on lies and deceptions results in the reader not knowing whom or what to believe. He follows his traditional anniversary Treasure Hunt that is not what it seems to be. All the clues are there, but their real meaning is shrouded by diversionary tactics.

Amy is a single child of two famous children's book authors. She has had a privileged life, but has also been on "display" since she is the subject of those books -Amazing Amy..... This, however, does not contribute to the happy life. She is resentful and feels like a pawn in their cause. Her diary is commentary on her life, her marriage, and her happiness or lack thereof and portend the future.
“The question I've asked more often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I supposed these questions storm cloud over every marriage: What are you thinking how are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”
Flynn's writing is infused with truth and humor that often slaps the reader in the face. One of the most compelling passages is Amy reflecting on Cool Amy or Amazing Amy.
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. 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, ..., 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 bit..h 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. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every f...ing thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point f... someone else. Because
“I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)” 
The secondary characters, Amy's parents Rand and Marybeth Elliott , Nick's sister Margo, Amy's implicating best friend Noelle, stalker Desi, college friend  Hillary Handy, detectives Boney and Gilpin, and Andie Hardy all add to the twists and turns that the book takes. What actually happened to Amy? How did Nick contribute to her disappearance? Did the police overlook the obvious? Could Amy possibly survive? There is no way to reveal any more about the plot without contributing major spoilers.

In addition to being the summer's greatest thriller, the book transcends that description by serving as a wake-up call as to who we actually are and who is that other person in a relationship. As Nick ponders:  
"What are you thinking how are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”

The one negative about the book and the reason for some lukewarm or panning reviews is that the ending seems a bit forced, but given the psychological tricks Flynn has pulled, it could be considered the only solution plausible. That's up for the the reader to decide. The only action that is not up for debate is to read this.

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