“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn (Crown, 432 pages, $25)
I picked up “Gone Girl” because the novel is set along the Mississippi River in Missouri and the plot sounded intriguing. I put it down two days later, bleary-eyed and oh-so-satisfied after reading a story that left me surprised, disgusted, and riveted by its twists and turns.
When you start Gillian Flynn’s latest book, it seems to be a story we’ve all heard before — a woman disappears and her husband doesn’t seem to be as distraught as he should be. But Flynn turns this story into something much more.
Amy and Nick Dunne seem like an ideal couple in less than ideal circumstances. They had been living and working in New York until the recession left both of these writers unemployed. That wouldn’t be a problem in the short-term, except that nearly all the $750,000 or so in Amy’s trust fund suddenly needs to be lent back to her parents, who made the money with a series of children’s books about “Amazing Amy.”
When Nick gets a call from his twin sister, Margo, that their mother is dying of cancer, the couple decide to move back to his hometown of North Carthage, Mo., to help with her care. Their marriage already has some strains — being jobless in New York is easy on no one — but the move to the Midwest makes things much worse.
The story is told in alternating chapters from Nick and Amy’s points of view. Nick’s is written in the present, while Amy’s account comes from her diary dating back to how she met her husband.
As Nick tells in his version, “Amy didn’t care to know my family, didn’t want to know my birthplace, and yet for some reason I thought moving home would be a good idea.”
Nick borrows the last of Amy’s trust fund to buy and run a bar with his sister, where he spends long hours nearly every day while Amy assumes a more active role in helping care for Nick’s dying mother.
Their fifth wedding anniversary arrives with Amy making breakfast for her husband and Nick dreading every word and act from his wife. Nick leaves that morning with Amy still at home. When he comes home later in the day, she’s gone. And quickly enough, he becomes the main “person of interest” in her disappearance.
Flynn starts spilling out the implicating evidence a little at a time. Nick had been charging up a storm on credit cards. Nick had not been spending enough time with Amy. He has no real alibi for the morning of her disappearance and — most damning — Nick was having an affair.
The scene at the Dunnes’ house, a rented McMansion in a mostly vacant subdivision, looks bad. The crime scene seems staged. There’s evidence that blood has been shed and then cleaned up. Before a week has passed since Amy’s disappearance, the case becomes a media sensation in part because of coverage on tabloid-style shows:
So readers are fairly convinced that Nick is the typical cad of a husband, fooling around and spending his wife’s money and scheming to find a way to get rid of Amy, who has vanished without a trace.
Until Flynn twists that tired plot into a pretzel. Giving more details would be a spoiler of the worst order.
A good story presents a reader with a problem that has to be resolved and a few surprises along the way.
A great story gives a reader a problem and leads you along a path, then dumps you off a cliff and into a jungle of plot twists, character revelations and back stories that you could not have imagined. “Gone Girl” does just that.