Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The fuss over Gone Girl

Most surface descriptions of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn make it sound like it is not the kind of book I typically read: a missing wife police procedural with a brutal husband as a suspect. Some descriptions stress another element that doesn't always work for me: the out-of-nowhere narrative twist like happens so often in the films of M. Night Shyamalan. And though the critics generally like the book, the "everyday people" I knew who had read it were split between loving it and hating it. So on an impulse, I bought this in paperback as a summer read, though I couldn't wait for summer.

The story is, in fact, a missing-wife, suspect-husband tale, reminiscent of the Scott and Laci Peterson story. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy, the wife of Nick, goes missing. Did she leave on her own accord?--she and Nick were having problems. Was she kidnapped?--her parents are the wealthy authors of a series of children's books whose central character was based on Amy. Was she murdered?--there are no visible signs of struggle until some suspicious blood traces are found in the kitchen.

The situation is fairly standard thriller boilerplate, but what makes the book worth reading is the narrative style. The first half of the book is told in alternating voices: the interior voice of Nick, who we figure out quickly is not the most reliable narrator (he makes oblique references to a disposable cell phone ringing but never tells us who's calling), and the voice of the missing Amy through her diary entries of the past few years, who seems generally more reliable. Then halfway through, a twist occurs--somewhat predictably but still joltingly--that throws everything we think we know about these two in a different light.

To say much more would spoil the fun, and despite some very dark turns the plot takes, reading the book is indeed fun. Nick and Amy are both unpleasant people but getting to know them is very interesting. Almost no one in the book is a nice person, and I had great fun with the author's takedown of awful CNN crime commentator Nancy Grace--under a fictional name, of course. I think some folks don't like the sexual politics, and may fault Flynn (pictured above) for what might be seen as the trivialization of some issues, including rape accusations. Where I found fault was in the ending--the last 30 pages or so seem like they're building steam to a real "gotcha" ending, but that's not quite the case. Still, I enjoyed this popcorn thriller, and it should make a good movie.