Saturday, June 27, 2015
Review: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Nick and Amy Dunne wed five years ago, and it seemed like the perfect match. Both were good-looking, and both found each other exciting. Fast-forward five years, and things are much less than perfect. Nick comes home one day to find the front door wide open, furniture strewn about the house, and his wife missing. The police get involved and right away it's clear that Nick is the number one suspect. The husband is always the top suspect because murders are most often committed by those closest to the victim. Flynn expertly puts us in the perspective of Nick while keeping him at arm's length. We want to believe and trust him, but as events unfold, we clearly cannot trust him.
Meanwhile, the story shares Amy's perspective in the form of diary entries. The diaries begin at the start of the relationship and tell an exciting, happy time. As time unfolds, however, we see problems in the marriage. Nick skipping an anniversary dinner to have drinks with friends and then getting upset with Amy for her disappointment. Nick losing his job. Amy's insecurities with being the titular character of her parents' set of youth books called the Amazing Amy series. As the years go by, the relationship grows more and more miserable.
And yet, all I will say, is the novel is not about one unreliable narrator, but two. That's the nature of diary entries. We are getting the story from one person, and even in Amy's descriptions, one can't help but feel she isn't all she says she is. She says she tries her best to be the cool wife who won't disapprove of Nick coming home late, but she comes off, in some ways, as the passive aggressive wife who is upset by this but only communicates it through her silence. And Nick is caught up in lie after lie. Sure, he admits to the reader that he has lied, but he does not say what he has lied about. And perceptive readers will catch on to some information he is leaving out. He often seems fearful of being found out about something possibly incriminating, but he never says what it is, not even in the confidence of the reader, who can't possibly report that information to the police.
Then the novel drops its bombshell. When other novels lay out their big plot twists, it usually means the story is coming to an end. In this case, however, it is just the beginning. The novel doesn't slow down its momentum - it gains momentum. From this moment forward it challenges its readers in their values and their beliefs about what they think they know about missing persons and murder cases like this one. Do you trust what the media tells you? Do you trust the way the media portrays certain people? In most cases, we do trust the media. The media is a powerful, influential force, and it exerts its power by creating a narrative of events even if it doesn't have all of the facts. Rolling Stone magazine had the nation believing, for some time, that the University of Virginia allowed one of its fraternities to get away with gang rape, only for an investigation to later reveal that Rolling Stone hadn't done its fact-checking and the rape likely didn't happen. The gang rape was Rolling Stone's narrative, but it was a false narrative. Gone Girl makes us wonder whether there really is a way to objectively tell a story.
Gone Girl will make you think about issues of trust, of relationships (in particular marriage), of narratives, of the thin line between good and evil, of how media helps shape that line, and of so many things. Her novel may make you angry, and I honestly can't think of any reason somebody will be completely satisfied with the ending, though I don't mean this in a bad way. You will be challenged constantly. You will be thrilled and excited by the intense chess match that plays out. You will be amazed by the wits of its major characters. Ultimately you will be angry. I'm still reeling a little bit, but as with many inevitable things in life, you have no choice but to settle with the fact that evil is unavoidable, no matter how blatantly obvious it is.