Monday, August 6, 2012

Gone Girl (Book Review)

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown Publishers, 2012)

It's been a long three years for anyone who read the incredible Dark Places (check out my review here).  But with the publication of her much-anticipated follow-up, the mystery/noir-thriller Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn is back with a vengeance.

The novel provides an intimate look inside the lives of troubled married couple Nick and Amy Dunne: when the latter disappears from the family home on the morning of her wedding anniversary, the former quickly emerges as the prime suspect of foul play.  Such synopsis might make Gone Girl sound like the stuff of a Lifetime Original Movie, but in Flynn's immensely talented hands the subject matter is molded into high art.

Much like Dark Places, Gone Girl succeeds on every level.  First and foremost, it presents a pair of psychologically-complex, flawed, yet unforgettable protagonists in dueling husband-and-wife narrators Nick and Amy.  The alternating-viewpoint chapters (Nick's narrative dramatizes the immediate aftermath of Amy's disappearance, while Amy's narrative unfolds as diary entries predating the fateful day) allows Flynn to map out an elaborate and tricky game of he said/she said.  "Lied" is a recurrent verb in the attributive clauses of Nick's dialogue, and the ominous clues spread throughout Amy's diary point the subsequent investigation in unusual directions.

The plot thickens in wonderfully wicked ways, offering more wild twists than a Tilt-A-Whirl operated by a narcoleptic carny.  (A word of caution: refrain from leafing ahead to see where latter sections of the book begin; the section titles contain potential spoilers.)  The book is so rife with intrigue and macabre incident, one secretly wishes that modern science can find a way to resurrect Hitchcock to direct the film version.

Flynn also weaves deeper theme into the novel, such as a critique of the ubiquity of, and hyperreality created by, postmodern media (Nick's legal plight, for instance, is bound up in what is dubbed the Evil Husband effect: "Everyone has seen too many true-crime shows where the husband is always, always the killer, so people automatically assume the husband's the bad guy.").  America's recent economic downturn is also a looming specter here, instigating key events that propel the plot forward and setting the stage for some Gothic set pieces (e.g. Flynn's haunting depiction of an abandoned Midwestern mega-mall).

The truest measure of Gone Girl's brilliance, though, is on the prose level.  Line by line and page after page, Flynn's words shine.  The author is an indisputable master of figurative language, concocting sentences such as "A supermarket deli tray full of hoary carrots and gnarled celery and a semeny dip sits untouched on a coffee table, cigarettes littered throughout like bonus vegetable sticks," and "My mother had five miscarriages and two stillbirths before me.  Once a year, in the fall, as if it were a seasonal duty, like crop rotation."  With her stylistic flair, Flynn even manages to transform a mundane incident like moving furniture to a new home into a memorable image: "Our dignified elephant of an ottoman with its matching baby ottoman sits in the living room looking stunned, as if it got sleep-darted in its natural environment and woke up in this strange new captivity, surrounded by faux-posh carpet and synthetic wood and unveined walls."  Also, for all its direness, the narrative is laced with a sense of humor that is at turns sardonic ("A girl texting and walking forget the nuances of the latter and almost ran into me.") and raucous ("'I got it,' Go said [jokingly solving her brother Nick's problem of finding a wood-themed fifth anniversary present for Amy]. 'Go home, fuck her brains out, then smack her with your penis and scream, "There's some wood for you, bitch!'"").

Perhaps the only negative that can be written about this absolute blockbuster of a book is that with Gone Girl, Ms. Flynn might have done irreparable harm to the institution of marriage.  Because after being exposed to Nick and Amy's relationship, even the most trusting soul will be wary of ever settling down with a mate.  And love, the reader realizes by novel's end, is the ultimate four-letter word.


Amit Agarwal said...

Fast paced and eventful novel with an astonishing 'interval' twist but looses the track towards the end.. Wasn't much impressed by the narrative style but a good read nonetheless.. Watch out for the twist..

Joe Nazare said...

Thanks for weighing in, Amit. It's going to be interesting to see how _Gone Girl_ translates to the big screen.