Gone Girl: A marriage forged in Hades

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (Crown Publishing Group, 2012, 432 pages)

What do you do if you discover your spouse is a sociopath?

  1. Go for counseling
  2. Seek a divorce
  3. This is something you don’t realize until it’s way too late and then you have to be very, very careful.

Answer: 3. When you finish Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn you will understand.

Gone Girl is a love story forged in Hades, a place in which the happy couple find themselves having never noticed the sign that read, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Amy and Nick are your typical young couple in love. Wrong. There is nothing typical about Amy and Nick, who met and fell in love in New York City. There Nick worked as a magazine writer and Amy lived on the proceeds of royalties for books written by her parents, a series of children’s books bearing the title Amazing Amy. Amy was amazing, you see, because she was the only child of two doting parents who were child psychologists. They had lost all of their children to miscarriage, and so Amy–the only one to make it into this world–was to them nothing short of amazing. She grew up in the shadow of Amazing Amy, the freckle-faced heroine of the best-selling series of books whose image she felt she had to live up to. She spent most of her life being what others–including men–expected her to be. Simply amazing.

Nick is a midwestern boy from Missouri, where he worked as a kid in Hannibal wearing Tom Sawyer outfits for the tourists. At first, their lives were happy–and then Nick lost his job. This novel takes us into the economic hardships that find people everywhere, in New York as well as Missouri, reeling at the sudden changes in their lives. Nick persuades her to move away from her beloved New York, her parents, and everything she knew to Carthage, Missouri, a town along the Mississippi near Hannibal. There they can pick up the pieces, take care of Nick’s ailing father, and Amy can bankroll Nick in his new business venture, a bar he runs with his twin sister. The Amy we come to know from her diary seems to be a throw rug, content to let her husband walk all over her and take her wherever he wants, her feelings notwithstanding. The perfect passive-aggressive wife.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, for things are not what they seem in this book. In time, their marriage is faltering. Nick is growing distant, and as we read Amy’s diary we learn that she is even coming to fear him. He is a changed man, we are told, and she confesses to trying to buy a gun–just in case.

Then, Amy suddenly disappears. We read the confusion in Nick’s voice as he tries to comprehend what has happened, who might have taken her–or worse. But as we read further, we realize that Nick is not the innocent here. In fact there are no innocents here. It soon becomes evident that only one person, Nick, could possibly have been responsible for her disappearance–and that she is probably dead at his hand. As the novel goes on, the evidence builds such that, even without a body, it is almost conclusive that he is the culprit. He is going down, no doubt about it.

In this book we are treated to what could possibly be the perfect murder, perpetrated by a sociopath who is disciplined and can plan out even the most minute details months ahead of time (or improvise brilliantly on the fly, if necessary). But, as I said, nothing in this story is what it seems. On one level, this novel makes a statement about the media’s tendency to turn spousal disappearance and possible murder into entertainment, complete with a Nancy Grace character and attorneys who spend as much time spinning for the public as preparing a defense. Meanwhile, the reader is spinning as, little by little, the whole truth unravels in all of its convolutions.

I can’t say too much more without spoiling the plot, but this is one of the most puzzling books I have ever read. The reader is led into a cavern, and just when you realize that you don’t know which way to go or what is going to confront you next, it is too late to go back. You are already lost, and you won’t figure it all out until the last chapter. The only thing you are clearly coming to understand is that this is the most screwed up couple you will ever come across in fiction. They truly deserve each other.

I wasn’t at all interested in reading this book when I first noticed it on the New York Times best seller list. I was even less interested when I learned that the movie rights had been sold and the film would be produced by Reese Witherspoon. I shy away from trendy. But in the end I took the bait.

I was amazed. You will be too.

Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris

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