Monday, October 29, 2012

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is the recently published mystery/psychological thriller by bestselling author Gillian Flynn. The beginning of the book finds characters Amy and Nick on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. The day seems the same as any other, just with a light addition of celebration: Amy makes Nick crepes for breakfast, Nick meets her in the kitchen downstairs before leaving for work at the bar he owns with his twin sister Margo. The first chapter serves as an introduction to their life, uprooted from New York and moved to Carthage, Missouri after Nick found out his mom had cancer. Rather than a temporary move, they have been in Missouri for a few years. They live in a house. Nick bought a bar. They have settled into a new way of living, even though New York was the place that they met, fell in love, and started to make a home.

Nick begins the story with an unsettling description of his wife: “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily.” Nick’s careful narration starting on “the day of” his wife’s disappearance reveals the weathered tension between him and Amy. The question of “What have we done to each other? What will we do?” is the question that shapes the narrative, determining what happens to a couple when they grow apart together, and the lengths they will go to preserve or end their relationship.

Late in the morning of their anniversary, Nick returns home from work to find that Amy has disappeared. The front door is wide open and the cat is sitting outside on the front steps. The living room has been overturned, furniture out of place and broken. Nick is slow to react to the fact that is wife is missing. He is slow to call the police, to call Amy’s parents in New York (who have written a successful children’s book series called Amazing Amy, based on their daughter), and to come up with an alibi that explains why he was late to work that morning. And then there is the fact that he continuously returns to the shape of her head, in a way that makes it seem very much like Nick has murdered Amy.

Nick’s experience of the day of Amy’s disappearance and the days after are interspersed by Amy’s own diary entries, beginning with the night that she met Nick for the first time in New York. Her diary reads as a love story, and is juxtaposed eerily alongside her disappearance and the police’s suspicion that Nick might just have murdered his wife. Their present is interwoven with their past, inviting the reader to speculate about what happened to the couple and what the nature of the mystery at the heart of this novel really is.

However, halfway through the book, Gone Girl turns into something like I’ve never read before. It’s not an easy mystery story; it’s complicated and layered, frustrating and exhilarating. Nick and Amy are doubled characters. They are one way in the first half of the book, and then they are another way in the second half, and it is up to the reader to reconcile these differences and determine, in the midst of it, what exactly has happened to Amy, and what will happen to Amy and Nick. Gone Girl is an incredible portrayal of a couple that relies on the psychological games that they play with one another, and what happens when they go too far. 

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