I’m back. I sure have missed this place. I’ll try to post more often from now on, I promise.
I have an old and dear friend who emails me about once a year. “I think about you every day,” she always says. “I’ll write soon.” Sometimes she says she has thought about me every day for the past 30 years: “I am going to sit down tomorrow and write you a long letter.” Then another year goes by. Once in a blue moon, she writes one of those long letters, and I remember why we became best friends over the exchange of half of my Italian hoagie for one of her extra sweaters, in the kind of impulsive, affectionate exchange you usually don’t have with other people past the age of 12.
I feel that way about this blog. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about writing in it. I have posts I’ve never posted. I’ll find a way to work those in within the next month or so. For now, here’s a review of Gillian Flynn‘s Gone Girl (Crown Publishing Group, $25, 432 pages), a book that’s currently at the top of the best-seller list for good reason. Not only is it a crazy good mystery, but it also touches on relationship issues along the way. Remember Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? Welcome to the war of those worlds!
In Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s devilishly clever He Said/She Said of a thriller, even the best marriage is tested when the wife goes missing and the husband finds himself at the center of a murder investigation.
Amy Dunne and her husband Nick were the perfect couple. Amy, a beautiful, brainy writer of questionnaires for women’s magazines, met Nick, a “gorgeous … uncomplicated” pop-culture writer, in New York City in the early 90s. She fell in love with his ability to make her happy; he adored “the girl of the big laugh and the easy ways.”
Each year, on their anniversary, the “happiest couple on the block” take part in a Treasure Hunt, a whimsical, sentimental quest devised by Amy that requires Nick to answer a series of questions based on the highlights of their romantic past. He rarely gets any of the answers right, but that doesn’t matter. Not at first.
Then comes 2008’s financial meltdown, when both are fired from their jobs. “Writers,” Nick says, “were through. We were like women’s hat makers or buggy whip manufacturers.” For a while, they live off Amy’s fat trust fund, the result of a series of best-selling books her parents wrote about a child, based on their daughter, called Amazing Amy—a “precocious moppet” with an alarming ability to choose correctly every time a moral issue arose.
When a bad investment forces Amy’s parents to borrow back the bulk of her trust fund, Nick suggests a last-ditch measure: a move to his hometown of North Carthage, Missouri, and a rental house on the Mississippi River. Borrowing what’s left of Amy’s money, he opens a bar that keeps them afloat: “The world,” he observes, “will always want a drink.”
But there’s no salvaging Amy’s dissatisfaction with the South and especially with Nick, who can’t seem to do anything right anymore, or the growing distance between them. Amy’s chronic unhappiness is the worst part: “My wife was no longer my 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.”
Still, even as bad as things are, the last thing Nick expects is to come home on their fifth wedding anniversary and find his wife missing. There are signs of a struggle, he has no alibi for where he was when she disappeared, and, though the cops don’t come right out and say it, Nick can see that the mounting evidence all points to one person: “Everyone know it’s always the husband. Just watch Dateline.”
Or just read Amy’s diary. Alternating with Nick’s present-day account, Amy’s memoirs takes us back to their earliest days, when Nick was loving, attentive, and oodles of fun: “It was like dating a sea otter.” His behavior changes when he can’t find work, however, and the diary begins to log a frightening series of bizarre and menacing incidents.
Their parallel stories soon reveal more twists than a pair of Slinkies. Nervous Nick makes a startling confession that changes the game. Devoted wife Amy reveals that hubby was a class-conscious loser who resented her independently wealthy status. She claims she made every attempt to cheer him out of his scary slump; in Nick’s dreams, Amy crawls across their kitchen floor, her hair matted with blood.
And if the whiplash from keeping track of the two Dunnes’ stories weren’t enough, Flynn hauls up an outrageous cavalcade of suspects who might have had it in for Amy: from Nick’s Alzheimer-stricken father to a childhood fan of Amazing Amy to one of Amy’s ex-boyfriends to an allegedly violent crew of unemployed, homeless factory workers entrenched in the burnt-out shell of the abandoned mall…. In short, almost everyone in town, including Nick’s twin sister.
Then there’s the sinister cat-and-mouse of Amy’s annual anniversary treasure hunt, with its cheery, rhyming, written clues that take an abrupt turn toward the dark, mean and crazy—with a maniacal giggle between the lines.
It doesn’t hurt that the tension never flags, even when events grow hyperreal and blackly comic. The mushrooming suspense, the 90-degree plot twists, the way the craziness is grounded in an economically depressed Southern town rife with the degradation and panic of unemployment, where a happily-ever-after marriage isn’t the only thing that’s gone—all this has shot the Missouri-born author’s book to the best-seller list with good reason.
But what makes the novel so addictive is the tour of the minefield Flynn throws her characters into, all too familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a relationship. It’s that explosive territory we enter when the romance cools and the mask comes off and a different face appears. Where we wonder right along with Nick Dunne, “What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you?”
Exactly what lengths would we go to, to win them back? “Because isn’t that the point of every relationship,” Amy asks, “to be known by someone else, to be understood? He gets me. She gets me.”
This is where “Gone Girl” leaves the reader at the end, in that most comfortably dangerous place of all: sleeping with the enemy.
(This review ran in the Living & Arts section of the Aug. 12 Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)