Book Review: Gone Girl

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The writer Tom McIntyre (The Snow Leopard’s Tale, Dreaming the Lion, Seasons & Days), once made a comment to me to the effect that he couldn’t bear to read any of the current crop of ballyhooed, hip-and-happening young authors because they had all grown up in relatively well-to-do urban or suburban homes, gone to good schools and good colleges and then to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and from there to New York, without ever doing anything, and then they all wrote immense dusty tomes about the terrible stresses and neuroses of growing up in relatively well-to-do urban or suburban homes and going to good schools and good colleges and then on to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and from there to New York, without ever doing anything. This may be an unfair assessment on Tom’s part, since he is doubtless contrasting their experience with his own, and he has done an incredible number of adventurous things in the old-fashioned, two-fisted Hemingway tradition, but it’s also a criticism that has a good deal of truth to it.

Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, grew up in a well-to-do home in Kansas City, went to good schools and a good college (University of Kansas), got her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern, and went to New York. Gone Girl is about a young married couple who grew up in well to do homes, went to good schools and good colleges…

So, for the first part of this three-part novel, we are in the familiar territory of (fill in the name of practically any successful and critically acclaimed American author of the last fifteen or twenty years), exploring the well-chronicled joys and stresses of marriage, love, passionate sex, compromise, the shades of growing estrangement, all the familiar stages of modern matrimony. But Gillian Flynn has transformed this routine fare into a marriage of the damned seen through a series of distorted fun-house mirrors, so that just about the time I started wondering, as I have with (fill in the title of practically any critically acclaimed book by practically any…etc.), why the hell I was wasting my time reading this, the first hints began coming, pale, faint adumbrations of something slightly off, distortions in the mirrors. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make me stick with it, and hoo-boy! I’m glad I did.

The second part of this book is where Ms. Flynn takes us behind the mirrors. Since I would not be doing you or her any kindness to spoil the surprises that come, I will only say she paints as convincing and chilling a portrait of a sociopath as I have encountered in a long time. I once had the misfortune to become enmeshed with a sociopath myself, and I count myself lucky to be alive; Ms. Flynn’s creation makes the sociopath in my life look like a Sunday school teacher. She has created a thing of icy, implacable, ruthless narcissism that is like a real-life super villain—unstoppable, indestructible, a terminator, something that cannot be killed, because it has no life to begin with, a thing without a heart, without a soul, a thing concerned only with its own needs and wants and desires, a human version of the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors: “Feed me, Seymour!” If you are married, or have any hope of ever becoming married, don’t read the second part of this book.

Actually, if you’re married, or have any hope of ever becoming married, don’t read the third part of this book either. Again, I don’t want to spoil things, so let me just say that Ms. Gillian turns the screw, slowly, from unusual and unexpected angles, and she ends the book in a way that… No. I’ll leave it there.

Is Gone Girl a perfect book? No. Readers with working familiarity of police procedure will recognize certain liberties taken, and there are some gaps in the plot, but you probably won’t notice these until long after you’ve put the book back on the shelf. Besides, Raymond Chandler and Alfred Hitchcock both managed to entertain us very well even as they took enormous liberties. Did I come away with a richer understanding of the human condition? If you include inhuman sociopaths as humans, yes, but otherwise, no. On the other hand, that isn’t why I purchased the book. I wanted to be entertained, and I was. I also had nightmares. One last comment: if I were married to Gillian Flynn, I would be very, scrupulously, uxoriously polite to her. She is a seriously demented puppy.

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