You can often find Marni behind the front counter of Island Books, her honey-colored hair and love for dogs an innocent cover for her reading taste. She’s the other Island Books staffer besides me who gets positively giddy over a good psychological thriller. This became obvious when Marni and I tried to snatch an advanced copy of Tana French’s Broken Harbor out of each others’ hands. In a friendly way, of course. So when she emailed me at the end of March to say “There’s a new mystery/thriller by Gillian Flynn called Gone Girl that you should read. I’m so excited for it to come in so I can sell it!” I knew what needed to be next on my reading list.
I’m limited in what I can say without spoiling Gone Girl, but I will tell you this: no matter how much you think you have the mystery figured out, the second half of the book will blow you away. And if my review here isn’t sufficient to hook you, ask Marni to tell you more about Gone Girl when you drop by the store. Her eyes will light up (as much as if you bring your dog by).
Here’s a book that looks like a classic “the-husband-did-it” thriller. Believably told from alternating points of view (and not all writers can pull this off well, but Flynn does), the story begins when bar owner Nick comes home to find his stay-at-home wife Amy has disappeared, leaving only suspicious signs of a struggle, some tell-tale blood on the kitchen floor, and the back door wide open. As the investigation begins, sections of Amy’s diary written in past tense are interspersed with Nick’s experience in the present as he deals with the aftermath of her disappearance.
Amy tells the story of how they met as young writers in New York, fell in love, and got married. Then the economy turned sour and both lost their jobs, which led to a decision to move back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri to care for his dying mother. Amy’s parents are bestselling authors of a children’s book series called Amazing Amy, which chronicled a fictional version of their daughter as she grew up. Their bestselling work turned Amy into a trust-fund child, and allowed her to loan Nick the money to open a bar with his twin sister, Margo.
The Amy that comes across in the diary is madly in love with her husband and increasingly lonely after they leave New York. She leaves behind warning signs in her narrative that suggest that they struggled in their marriage and Nick has a temper he can’t control. Nick, on the other hand, despite his earnestness over the seriousness of the situation, lies to the police, Amy’s parents, and worst of all, us readers. The media doesn’t like him and his behavior following Amy’s disappearance is suspicious. We can see where this is going. Nick must be the one responsible. The question is why, and how. Or is it?
That’s where the story seems to be going, but then we’re smarter readers than that, aren’t we? The explanation can’t possibly be that simple. Then other suspects begin to pop up, including stalkers from Amy’s past (she’s had a few since she was the inspiration for a popular children’s book character). Her parents seem a little off, too. And then there’s that something that Nick’s sister Margo is hiding…
At this point in the review I’m using all my restraint to keep from dropping the bombshell on you. All I can say is you’ve never met a villain as creepy and distinctive as this one, or an ending that’s as uniquely disturbing. The darkest parts of this novel are not the crimes. What’s most unnerving about Gone Girl is, shockingly, the true nature of Nick and Amy’s superficially normal marriage.