Secrets can make delightful surprises. Check under the tree on Christmas morning. But you don't need to turn over a rock to find another kind of surprise. You can pick up Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, in which there are more hidden things awaiting discovery than those offered by the treasure-hunt clues Amy always leaves her husband, Nick Dunne, on their wedding anniversaries. On their fifth anniversary, Nick has a more serious puzzle to solve. He returns home to find Amy's declawed cat outdoors, the front door wide open, the iron still plugged in, the tea kettle burning, imperfectly mopped up blood in the kitchen and the living room appearing as if a cyclone had dropped in. And Amy herself? Gone.
When the book opens, narrator Nick is reflecting on his wife's pretty head. The shape of it. What's inside of it. In fact, he says the question he's asked most often during their marriage, if not out loud, is "What are you thinking, Amy?"
Amy Elliott inspired her child-psychologist parents' children's book series about a perfect girl named Amazing Amy. The books always ended with a multiple-choice question about what Amy would do in the circumstances. Perhaps it isn't surprising that when Amy grows up, she earns a master's degree in psychology and writes personality quizzes for women's magazines. She doesn't need to work, though, because Amazing Amy amassed a nice trust fund. This comes in handy when Nick, a magazine writer, loses his job and Amy loses hers shortly thereafter. They spend weeks in their pajamas, aimlessly roaming their Brooklyn brownstone, until Nick receives a call from his twin sister, Margo, in North Carthage, Missouri. Nick and Margo are so close he thinks of her as "mytwingo." Their mother has cancer and maybe six months to live. Nick isn't fond of his father, who's so full of fury his teeth grinding can be heard across the room, and who now lives in an assisted living center, but Nick has always loved his mother. Without consulting Amy, Nick promises Go that they'll move back to his childhood home to help Go cope.
|Nick had a boyhood job playing Huck Finn in Hannibal, Missouri.|
Early little asides like that one unsettle the reader. So do Nick's descriptions of a new, brittle, bitter Amy who was no longer his wife "but a razor-wire knot daring me to unloop her, and I was not up to the job with my thick, numb, nervous fingers . . . untrained in the intricate dangerous work of solving Amy." One reads Nick's account in chapters dated "The Day of," "Six Days Gone," etc.
Given that Nick has called Amy "the girl with an explanation for everything," it's instructive to read Amy's sporadic diary entries, which alternate with Nick's narrative chapters. Amy is articulate and opinionated, insightful and funny. Her diary begins on January 8, 2005, the day she meets Nick ("a great, gorgeous dude, a funny, cool-ass guy"). Amy describes her parents' marriage as so "cherishing" that she feels like a useless appendage who's pressured to be perfect. The perfect girl becomes the perfect girlfriend and the perfect wife for the perfect man. Amy doesn't force Nick to do pointless tasks, and make myriad sacrifices to prove his love for her like other women whose husbands perform like dancing monkeys. The move to Missouri changes them and their marriage. The competitiveness and relentless achieving that made her at home in New York City are greeted with "open-palmed acceptance and maybe a bit of pity" in Missouri. Her husband and his twin sister often make her feel like a third wheel. By the morning of Nick and Amy's fifth wedding anniversary, they have been in Carthage two years. What happens then?
Amy says Tom Petty's music has accompanied everything important in her life.
|Gillian Flynn photo by Heidi Jo Brady|
Carthage's fictional cops, Det. Rhonda Boney ("brazenly, beyond the scope of everyday ugly") and her partner, Det. Jim Gilpin (who looks like he should stink of cigarettes and sour coffee but who smells of Dial soap instead) organize a search and a press conference. Nick's in-laws swoop into town to set up a Find Amy Dunne headquarters at the Days Inn, and all kinds of people seep out of the woodwork to help. Nick decides his journalist background qualifies him to investigate possible suspects from Amy's past. The case catches the eye of Ellen Abbot (think "Nancy Grace"), a permanently furious former prosecutor and victims' rights advocate, who doesn't like the sound of Amy's vanishing or the looks of Nick's killer smile. Human tragedy becomes cable TV entertainment. Need I tell you that before long Nick hires a celebrity attorney to represent him?
At this point, I hope I don't need to tell you this is a very fun and suspenseful read. Get a friend to read it too, so you can compare your interpretations of the clues with another reader. You'll be thinking about the foreshadowing, the characters, our media-obsessed culture and the book's ending when the final page is gone.
Note: I received a free copy of Gone Girl for purposes of this review.