Book #270: Gone Girl Review

4 Star Ratings

I can totally understand why people feel so strongly about Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  Flipping through Goodreads reviews makes that abundantly clear.  Some readers love it with their whole hearts, like Miss Taryn Fisher:

Good Review

Taryn wants to “drink blood laced cocktails with Gillian,” which takes book love to a whole new, super creepy level.  But not everyone wants to join Flynn’s totally non-existent cult.  Take Elizabeth, who…well…saying she didn’t like Gone Girl is an understatement:

 

Bad Review

Gone Girl making her “weep for the future?”  That’s stone cold!

All of the reviews echo these sentiments in one way or another.  People either love Gone Girl or hate it, but to borrow from Buddhism, no one takes The Middle Way.  Well…except for me, perhaps.

But we’ll get to that in a second.  Gone Girl follows the story of Amy and Nick Dunne, two former New Yorkers who relocate to Carthage, Missouri to take care of Nick’s ailing mother.  On the outside, Nick and Amy seem like the perfect couple: they’re both intelligent, attractive writers who meet at a party, get married, and live comfortably with the help of Amy’s trust fund.  Everything is not as it seems, though.  When the book opens, Amy has gone missing and the police suspect foul play.  Flynn’s book presents both Nick’s and Amy’s perspectives, and it bounces between present-day Missouri and Amy’s life in New York.  However, as the book unfolds, we learn that neither Nick nor Amy are perfect, and something dark and dangerous lurks at the heart of Amy’s disappearance.

Here’s the deal: I thought Gone Girl was a good book, but I did not enjoy reading it.  Like, not even a little.  I had to force myself to sit down and read for thirty minutes at a time, since that seemed to be my threshold before I felt like throwing my Nook across the room.  I could only digest Gone Girl in the smallest of doses even though I thought the book was superbly written, plotted, and assembled.

And that’s the distinction I want to make right now: you don’t have to like a book to acknowledge it’s a good book.  I didn’t like Gone Girl, but it’s definitely a quality read.  Before you think I’ve gone totally crazy, check out my review below, but beware—significant spoilers are ahead!


The Good

Credit where credit is due, Flynn is an amazing writer.  She has an incredible way with words that most writers nowadays completely lack.  It’s not just that she knows how to string them together to tell a story, it’s that she weaves them together to make something beautiful.  Take this moment where Amy is waiting to watch Nick’s interview on the Ellen Abbot show:

“Just before noon, [Ellen Abbott] flares up, promising a special report.  I stay tuned, glaring at the TV: Hurry up, Ellen.  Or: Hurry up, Ellen.  We have that in common: We are both people and entities.  Amy and Amy, Ellen and Ellen.” 

The “Amy” that Amy refers to is, of course, Amazing Amy from the Amazing Amy books (confused yet?).  Amy Dunne née Elliott starred in the Amazing Amy book series, penned by her parents and read by little girls around the country.  On the surface, that’s what Amy talks about here: she is both Amy Dunne and Amazing Amy, both a person and a brand.

But there’s more at work in just these five sentences.  First, she points out that everyone has two sides: what he or she shows the world and what exists in the heart.  For instance, Ellen-Abbott-the-television-talk-show-host is not Ellen-Abbott-the-person, even though they are two sides of the same coin.  I know that I certainly wear multiple masks, whether I mean to or not.  For example, who I am at home with my husband isn’t who I am when I’m standing in front of forty-some-odd college freshman.  We know that Amy, at least, is as two-faced as it gets.  She’s the adoring wife from her diaries, the mean-spirited psychopath from the second half of the books, and the darling of the media after she’s been “found.”  She’s all of these things rolled into one horrible, horrible person, and we get that from just this one short paragraph.

Honestly, there exists not ONE decent human being in Gone Girl.  Literally everyone is in a competition for “The Worst Human Ever” prize.  Let’s see how they stack up!

  • Amy: total psychopath, definitely the mayor of CrazyTown USA.  I even hated Nice Amy at the beginning of the book. She came across as smarmy and milksoppish to me, not as some poor downtrodden wife.  I wanted to punch all the Amy’s in the face.
  • Nick: I cannot abide by a cheating husband.  No matter what his justification, Nick was literally the worst.  He cheats on Amy, lies to the police, and this is shocked–SHOCKED–when it all goes south for him.  His entitlement knows no bounds, and I wanted to punch him in the face and then in the nuts and then back in the face.
  • Amy’s parents:  I don’t remember their names and disliked them so much that I won’t bother to look them up.  They exploit their daughter for their own ends, and though they are torn up about her disappearance, they capitalize on it later by reviving the Amazing Amy franchise.  They’re also Indian Givers, which I deplore.  It was either Amy’s trust fund or it wasn’t!  I wanted to punch them both in the face.
  • Nick’s parents: One’s an abuser, the other is an enabler.  They both create Nick, so that sucks for everyone.  I wanted to punch both of them in the face with a stack of Amazing Amy books.
  • Go: Nick’s enabler of a sister.  She holds his hand through the whole process, letting him stay on her couch and turning the hose on reporters when he’s too afraid to deal with them himself.  I appreciate her loyalty, but her unwillingness to condemn Nick for cheating on Amy or hold him to any real behavioral standard made me hate her.  I wanted to punch her in the face.
  • Desi: Dude, she’s not into you.  Yes, she’s using you, but that doesn’t mean you can keep her prisoner in your cabin. Yes, she’s a nutjob.  Yes, I want to see her living body thrown in a cement mixer.  That still doesn’t make what you did okay!  I wanted to punch him in the face.
  • Andie:  You hooked up with a married man knowing he was married.  When his wife disappears, you go to his house.  Let me say that again: YOU GO TO NICK’S HOUSE EVEN THOUGH HE PROBABLY KILLED HIS WIFE.  She’s either the most naive character of all time or the dumbest.  Or both.  It doesn’t matter, I still hated her.  I wanted to punch her in the face.
  • Gillpin and Boney: These are the two Missouri detectives tasked with taking care of Nick’s case.  Gillpin is your stereotypical easy-answer-let’s-get-some-donunts incompetant cop, so I disliked him on principle.  Boney, however, I thought was a little better until she just lets everything drop at the end of the novel.  She’s like, “Yeah, I’m a cop and have an obligation to bring killers to justice.  But this time, I think I’m just gonna let this murderer slide right through.”  Face.  Punched.

I hated everyone so much that at one point, I gave myself a jaw cramp from grinding my teeth so hard. And yet, this is one of the best parts of Flynn’s book.  Do you know how rare it is to have a cast of flawed characters who are legitimately messed up?  So many books today operate on what I call the One Special Snowflake principle: the man character is amazing in all things except for one or two silly flaws (like she’s only averagely pretty or her parents move a lot) to try and make her resonate with readers.  Flynn drops that crap like its hot.  Instead, it’s like Flynn asked herself how she might make readers hate everyone in her book but still read to the end.  It’s a refreshing change of pace and works in glorious tandem with the book’s plot.

The Bad

Flynn does her job too well, though.  Because I didn’t like Nice Amy at the beginning of the book, I couldn’t work up the righteous hate for Nick that I needed to make the beginning half of the novel move along.  In order for the first section of the book to really work, you have to be Team Amy, and I wasn’t.  Because we know Nick was at The Bar when Amy disappears, we know from the onset of Gone Girl that Nick isn’t Amy’s killer.  I was immediately interested in who really did kill Amy, but I had to muddle through 200 pages before I had any sort of payoff.  Flynn takes a gamble with this strategy—she banks on the fact that you’ll catch on to the weird discrepancies and keep reading, but she also risks readers dropping out due to sheer boredom.  I almost quit multiple times, and I likely would have if not for friends encouraging me that there’d be a payoff.  They were right of course, but the pacing was a problem for me.

I also found Amy’s incredible genius extremely hard to buy.   She’s apparently the smartest woman in the world: she outsmarts the cops, the feds, a lawyer whose hourly rate equates to a small BMW, and her own husband.  Even though Nick tells us that he’s going to catch her in one of her lies by the end of the book, she somehow manages to stay one step ahead of him and everyone else.  This cannot be possible.  I know that people really do get away with murder *coughOJSimpsoncough*, but it’s never because they are “just a really good planner.”  And that’s what Amy is.  She doesn’t come off as Einstein-level smart even in Nick’s retrospectives.  Amy’s meticulousness becomes her claim to fame, but I don’t buy it.  How does a sheltered New York quiz writer manage to pull this off, even with a year of careful planning?  The answer: she doesn’t.  It’s one of the only puzzle pieces that doesn’t fit in an otherwise exquisitely plotted book.

 

The Ugly

You know I have to talk about the ending.  For those of you who quit reading before the end, here’s what happens: Amy comes back, she’s got everything stitched up nice and pretty, including Nick.  She traps Nick in a marriage that he doesn’t want by using his sperm bank donation to get pregnant.  When Nick finds out she’s expecting, he calls off his lawyer, the cops, and settles in to a lifetime of misery.

This ending totally fits the book, I’ll give you that.  But I suffered for hundreds of pages hoping for some sort of schadenfreude for…well, everyone, and then nothing.  NADA.  Sure, life will be terrible for Nick, but Amy gets away with everything.

The only suitable ending to Gone Girl would have looked something like this:

Typhoon-dual-bomb-drop

That’s an airstrike on Carthage, if you’re wondering.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s not a single redeemable person in that town.


 

Anyway, so even though I didn’t entirely like Gone Girl, I’m giving it four stars because it’s an objectively good book.  It’s well plotted, the characters are vivid, and the fresh plot keeps you thinking.  If you’re at all interested in the plot, I think Gone Girl is worth a shot.  You might not like it, but you probably won’t regret that you read it.

Be prepared to want to strangle everyone, though.  Seriously. They’re not very nice people.

Read This If:

You like plots with twists, turns, and somersaults

You enjoy a mystery that keeps you guessing

You’re interested in psychology and want deep, meaty characters

You like well-written books

Skip This If:

You don’t like books without a clear-cut protagonist or someone you can root for

You’re great at guessing how mysteries will turn out; guessing the end of Gone Girl makes it a painful slog

You’re too hipster to read something if it’s already popular



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *