Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Every couple of years, supermarket tabloids take hold of what seems to be the same story. You know which one I mean, even if you don't pay attention, because those faces seem to stare at you from magazine covers and TV screens everywhere. Yes, it's that couple again: her just a smiling photo of a pretty young woman, photogenic, preferably blond. He's the haggard husband, eyes fogged with exhaustion as he reads a statement in the hot glare of the television lights, begging for her safe return. Add to them the tens of thousands of housewives who consider themselves instant experts on DNA, blood spatter, riptides... not to mention talking heads aghast in simulated outrage as they dial up the accusations. Yes, you know the scenario: there's a Gone Girl out there.
Nick Dunne never expected to be that hapless hubby. Of course he knew his marriage to Amy Elliott had hit a "rough patch”; certainly he knew the strain of losing both jobs and relocating from Manhattan to the midwest – to godforsaken Missouri! – had made it worse. But when he woke on the morning of their fifth anniversary hearing Amy hum as she made anniversary crepes, he allowed himself to think maybe it would work out after all.
Just hours later, Amy had disappeared: fallen off the face of the Earth, the door to their rented house on the bank of the Mississippi standing open; living room furniture overturned and a tubby cat blinking in the sunlight on their doorstep. The police were understanding, but we all “know” the husband is always the chief suspect. His first television appearance, with the plea for her safe return? He blew it with his dazzling, completely inappropriate smile. Things went downhill from that moment, pushed along by Nick’s stubborn refusal to account for his whereabouts the morning of his wife’s disappearance.
Amy was Amy Elliott Dunne, a once-rich Manhattan girl who had inspired the dozens of “Amazing Amy” books written by her parents. She was as blond and photogenic as any victim ever for a nation apparently obsessed with telegenic blond victims. Her disappearance could have been a made-for-TV Lifetime movie of the week...
Things got worse for Nick: a tiny red thong showed up in the office where he met his students as an associate lecturer at a nearby community college. A pool of blood was found to have been (badly) cleaned up on the kitchen floor. Then, there were a recent increase in Amy’s life insurance policy and tens of thousands of dollars charged to credit cards Nick had never opened, not to mention Amy's best friend of whom he seemed unaware. So when the local police turned up Amy’s diary, it was all over but the shouting. Lance Nicholas Dunne, 38, residing in the bootheel of Missouri, was tried and convicted by a nationwide TV audience before the handcuffs even came out.
There was just one small problem: Nick knew he hadn’t killed his wife, but he was pretty sure what had happened to her…
For the first few pages, you might think the Missouri-born Gillian Flynn is chronicling her own life: like Nick Dunne, she's a one-time print journalist (former television reviewer for "Entertainment Weekly") who fell victim to internet "journalism" and the depression of 2008. The resemblance to either Dunne, however ends there.
With eye fixed on tabloid television and tongue planted firmly in cheek, Flynn crafted a plot that might have been ripped, Law and Order-like, from last year's (or last month's or last week's) headlines. Her narrative opens by alternating between the voice of Nick and chapters from Amy's diary of their six years together. Each passing page further cements Nick's apparent guilt, even as FLynn skillfully drags a string of red herrings across the case: did Nick's twin sister finally tire of the sister-in-law she'd never liked? Did his senile father wander into their house and kill a "stranger"? Did an old boyfriend reappear to spirit her off? Could it have been her parents? A stranger?
But maybe it was Nick, after all. Remember, he's never admitted where he was when she disappeared. By the last page of "Part 1: By Loses Girl," even the most sympathetic reader will have given up on Nick's defense. And then you turn the page, and you slap your forehead and say, "Wow! I never saw that coming!"
Yes, she's that good...
Flynn's protagonists are always strong, troubled women; and Amy Elliott Dunne continues in the same vein. Her predecessors could give you some hints about what makes the Amazing Amy tick: Camille Preaker (Sharp Objects) is a "cutter" who's into rough, anonymous sex; and Libby Day (Dark Places) is a bitter klepto still living off the notoriety of surviving her family's massacre decades ago. Yet Amy's diary makes her seem so perfect, so adorable - what's going on inside that blonde head?
You can trust Gillian Flynn to lead you on an expedition into this woman's complex psyche; trust her because you will enjoy every step of the journey for the power of Flynn's plotting and the skill of her characterization. You can't help but learn to love Amy Dunne and revile her husband, and that's the ultimate testimony to Gillian Flynn's craft.