In 2020, I complained that “Gone Girl” started a “fad” for contrived thrillers “that rely on relentless plot inversions.” I said “It’s a fashion whose time has come and should be gone, girl.”
Big luck. The double helix structure of ‘Gone Girl’ – in which husband and wife Nick and Amy Dunne tell twisting, twisting stories that obsessively dramatize and undermine the details of Amy’s disappearance on the fifth wedding anniversary of the couple – has become canonized into a distinct form of domestic suspense. of its own. The 2014 film “Gone Girl,” starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, further extended the novel’s serpentine reach. Not since Italian philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco wrote the surprise bestseller “The Name of the Rose” in 1980 has an entertaining crime novel been so elegantly lined with a reflection on the instability of truth.
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Reviews, like stories, can also be choppy. What I realized after re-reading “Gone Girl” on the 10th anniversary of its publication is that over the years, the distinctive power of Flynn’s blockbuster had faded for me. I had thought of the novel through the gray canvas of its lesser imitators. In truth, my acerbic comments about the literary imitators “Gone Girl” spawned have nothing to do with the original: a macabre, ingenious, and psychologically shrewd cat-and-mouse tour de force of marriage and malevolence. .
Let’s recap: “Gone Girl” tells a story of love gone wrong. (Or, maybe, it was never love in the first place.) Nick and Amy Dunne were once young magazine writers who lived a brilliant life together in a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. As print journalism slumped in the new millennium, the couple lost their respective jobs. Credit card spending began to spike, so Nick demanded a tight return to his hometown: North Carthage, Mo. Pulling money from Amy’s trust fund (another story in itself), Nick and his twin sister, Go, opened a bar, and Nick retained bits of his professional identity by teaching a journalism course at the local college. Amy sat in their rented house and stewed. (Or, at least, that’s how Nick sees the situation.)
“Gone Girl” opens on the morning of the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary; at that time, a bitterness as thick as Mississippi mud gathered around their relationship. Here’s Nick describing the origins of their annual “treasure hunt”:
“My wife loved games, mainly mind games but also real fun games, and for our anniversary she always had an elaborate treasure hunt, with each clue leading to the hiding place of the next clue until until I reach the end, and my gift. It was what her dad always did for her mom on their birthday. … But I didn’t grow up in Amy’s house, I grew up in mine, and the last gift I remember my dad getting my mom was an iron, sitting on the kitchen counter, with no wrapping paper…. The problem with Amy’s scavenger hunts : I never understood the clues.
Sometime later that day, Amy disappears. The front door of the house is open; the declawed domestic cat roams outside; the living room is messy. (Local police think this scene looks staged.) The novel’s chapters alternate between telling Nick about his frantic search for Amy via the birthday scavenger hunt clues she left behind. her and Amy’s diary entries, beginning with her first desperate encounter. with the dreamer Nick. But cracks soon arise in both of their narratives. Why does Nick have a secret disposable phone? Why would Amy, who was so sweet in her early journal entries, suddenly sneer that she’s entitled to her trust fund because her parents ‘plagiarized my childhood’ for their bestselling children’s books ‘Amazing Amy’ ? This is just the tip of the interpretative iceberg.
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All mysteries are invitations to close reading; all the great mysteries show us, readers, how deficient our skills in careful reading are. “Gone Girl” bombards us with testimonials, letters, phone calls, treasure hunt clues, and the aforementioned journal entries, urging us to read smarter. (The new special edition, released to mark the novel’s first decade, includes 10 pages of never-before-seen material – mostly diary entries providing a bit more of Amy’s childhood story. They’re not necessary, but they’ll appeal to the novel’s most rabid fans. .)
By the end of the novel, most if not all of us readers will have to face the fact that we’ve failed the grim close reading test offered by “Gone Girl.” I have now failed this test twice – surely proof that “Gone Girl” is and remains a very big mystery.
Maureen Corrigan, book reviewer for NPR’s “Fresh Air” program, teaches literature at Georgetown University.
Gone Girl: Special Anniversary Edition
Ballantine. 442 pages. Paperback, $18.
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