A large part of the appeal of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is the big reveal that happens half way through the book. What you think is an ordinary sort of Scott Peterson story turns into a portrait of a psychopath. You realize that the narrator has been unreliable, and that you’ve been duped. Or so I assume that’s why fans of the story really love the book. They feel like they’ve been taken on a ride, and because of it, have really gotten their money’s worth.
I know that “Gone Girl,” without even looking at bestseller lists, was one of the most popular novels of 2012. I can tell because even in 2013, I saw no less than five other women reading it on the subway, one of them who was sitting right next to me. “I started yesterday,” she said, holding up the book so I could see she was 3/4 finished. It’s like the fucking “50 Shades of Gray” of thrillers, only better written and without any anal licking (and let me tell you, it suffers from the lack). It’s also extremely addictive — I flew through all 419 pages in less than 3 days.
My problem is that I read the back jacket reviews before beginning to read. “Gone Girl is one of the best and most frightening portraits of psychopathy I’ve ever read,” said Tana French, everyone’s favorite Irish female mystery novelist. (That description of French sounds like the topic of a class I would have taken at Brown. I did, in fact, take a class my senior year there called “Esthers of the Diaspora: Latin American Female Jewish Writers.” There were roughly three of note.)
Psychopathy is defined, on Wikipedia, as:
A personality disorder characterized by shallow emotions (including reduced fear, a lack of empathy, and stress tolerance), coldheartedness, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility,impulsivity, criminality, antisocial behavior, a lack of remorse, and a parasitic lifestyle.
Given the jacket copy, I started the book looking for a manipulative, charming character who would reveal his or her behavior to mimic the description above. I knew almost immediately that the character was not Nick Dunne, a failed writer living on the banks of the Mississippi River who comes home one afternoon to find that his wife, Amy, is gone. “Gone Girl,” get it?
The book is split between two perspectives — one is narrated by Nick, and the other by Amy. Nick’s story moves chronologically forward, each chapter marked by hours or days that Amy has been gone. Amy’s story is written in the past, in diary entries that talk about her life before Nick, and the whirlwind romance they experienced when they first got together.
Amy, as a character, is sort of your typical modern day fairy tale princess — in my mind’s eye, she looks exactly like Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. She is the subject of the fictional “Amazing Amy” children’s books, written by her parents, which are in every school library in America. Thanks to the royalties from the book, she is also a trust fund baby, which enables her to do what she wants, which is to write the sorts of quizzes that appear in women’s magazines.
If you were confronted with a perfect trust fund baby in a story, would you:
a. try to become friends with her because even if you can’t be the sun, it feels good to be close to it?
b. tell yourself that you have nothing in common and ignore her emails about meeting up for a drink?
c. suspect that she’s the psychopath
My answer: c
I mean, obviously. If she was all of those things and not the psychopath, wouldn’t that be annoying, especially in a book written for women?
Slowly, it becomes clear that the Amy who is writing the diary is not even close to the Amy that Nick knows. While Nick is far from perfect, he’s not a psychopath. He’s just a banal sort of asshole, the sort of guy your friends would be like, “I don’t know, maybe he’ll get better when he isn’t so stressed at work.” And you’d stay with because he wasn’t that bad, really — who cares if he missed your anniversary?
In the book, he spent a lot of time at the bar he owned with his twin sister, Go, who he puts on a pedestal. He turns out to be having an affair with Andie, a hot young co-ed who he met while teaching a class at a local community college. Not the deep dark stuff of a twisted mind, but perhaps suspicious enough that he might have killed Amy, whom he seemed to think was a real bitch, by accident one morning.
Amy, on the other hand, only gets more saccharine as the narrative moves forward. She talks about how she loves being a wifey to Nick, even when he stays out late with his friends, and doesn’t talk to her. She’s like a caricature of your worst nightmare friend — the sort of girl who lies to herself that she’s happy even when everyone else knows that her husband is getting blow jobs in bathrooms from whores. “My life is so perfect,” she seems to say. Only when she and Nick lose their jobs and all their money, and are forced to move from their brownstone in Brooklyn to Missouri, where Nick was raised, does she start to betray any sort of dismay. Still, she puts her best foot forward!
Suddenly, just as you’re beginning to really suspect that Nick might have killed Amy — I say this hypothetically, because I didn’t think so— there’s a big black page break, and Amy’s true voice comes out.
You should not read any more of this blog post if you don’t want to ruin the book, or the movie that will no doubt be based on it.
Amy, of course, is a bona fide psychopath. She talks about how she never really loved Nick, she was just pretending to be a “cool girl” for a while to try it on. She faked her own death because she caught him cheating, and wanted to punish him. She talks about how she hopes he’ll be arrested and put in jail for her murder, after which she’ll take a boat to Mexico, and kill herself by taking sleeping pills and throwing herself, laden with rocks, in the water.
The problem is that her character is not that well developed. If Amy were really a psychopath, of course, she’d never kill herself. In real life, she’d probably run out of money, and get caught. On television, she’d just kill the people who got in her way, and start a psychopath cult.
Instead, what evolves is this sketchy portrait of two deeply flawed characters — and I don’t mean flawed in a human way, I mean flawed in the sense that they don’t really make sense. To hide out, Amy goes to the Ozarks, to a cabin, with $10,000. When her white trash neighbors steal all her money, she calls an ex-boyfriend, Desi, who is himself something of a psychopath. He takes her to his lake house, which is actually a prison. She kills him, and escapes back to Nick, who has become a media celebrity given that he is the main suspect in Amy’s murder.
Nick, a limp dicked character until the second half of the book, makes a sort of half-hearted attempt to play Risk with Amy. He pretends to love her in his media interviews, so that she is tempted to come home. It works — she gets swayed by sentimentality — and returns back home with a story about how she was raped and kept captive by Desi. She becomes the victim — Nick becomes a hero. They move back in together.
The question that kept on linger was that if Amy really is a psychopath, why would she chose to be with someone like Nick? Psychopaths lead parasitic lifestyles — meaning that they rely on other people to take care of their most mundane needs, such as money and food. But Nick is not a breadwinner, and he is not a sycophant. Amy neither attempts to use him, nor needs him for anything material. Her feelings for him all have to do with “love” and “winning” — she was happy with him when they first met, and she wants to keep him, even if it means sacrificing both of their happiness. It’s all very sentimental and “female.” A true psychopath, in my opinion, would have killed him before moving to Missouri, eaten his brain, and then slept with as many people as she could get in her sex dungeon.
Which kind of brings me to the ultimate flaw of Gone Girl. It’s innocence. There is almost no talk of sex or violence. Instead, the story lacks any sort of oomph that would make it truly horrifying. It’s like a “housewife gone awry” story, a woman’s worst nightmare of what she herself could turn out to be if the man who completed her turned out to be the sort of loser who would fall out of love when things got hard.
Amy has an evil core — but she also just wants to have the perfect marriage. She wants Nick to say all of the right things, and be the best husband. Stephanie Meyer should use her plotline to pervert Bella’s character in a sequel to the Twilight triology.
What happens at the end is so extremely dumb. Amy uses Nick’s sperm from a sperm bank to become pregnant, and trap him in the marriage forever, even though she tried to frame him for murder! And he stays. He decides that he will try to have the perfect life with her, and they will live together happily forever. The end.
I mean, come on. At least give this poor Nick sucker the opportunity to gouge out her eyeballs!
Infuriating. The one good thing I will say is that the book is really well written. I never once felt like, “ugh, dumb.” In fact, I thought a few times that the writing was almost like Richard Prince minus, of course, his perfect storytelling abilities. If only it had ended with a cannibalism scene, then I might have forgiven the rest of it…