[Book Review] Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

I knew just one fact going into Gone Girl, because after the release of the movie, there's one fact about this book that's pretty much impossible to avoid.

Amy Dunne is not dead. Amy Dunne is framing her husband.

(Also, a lot of people who saw the movie referred to her as "that crazy bitch", but that doesn't really mean anything. Misogynists call every woman that.)

Now, before I get into things, I have a confession to make, and it's this: I didn't actually finish this book. At around 80% through, I decided that enough was enough, and I quit. The rest of this review will essentially be my explanation of why I didn't manage to finish this story; it's a fairly straightforward reason, but it'll take some time to properly explain.

First and foremost, let's get into what this book, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is about. Since this was a major motion picture and exceptionally popular several years ago, I imagine most people already know all about this story. If you've seen the movie but haven't read the book, what I'm going to say in this review probably won't make a ton of sense to you; from what I can tell, the movie stripped away pretty much everything I liked about this book (which is unsurprising, as the second half of the book itself also managed to do that--but more on that later), and so the complaints I'm going to make aren't going to make any sense if all you've got to go on is the story as it's laid out in the film or the pop cultural osmosis that resulted from the film.

So. Gone Girl is about a wife, Amy Dunne, and a husband, Nick Dunne. Their marriage is supposedly a good one, but it's secretly very much not. On the couple's fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. And that's how Nick finds himself the main suspect in the disappearance-and-possible-homicide of his wife. Because it's always the husband, right?

(Not a fun fact: 55% of female deaths from 2003 to 2014--the era in which the story takes place--were the result of "intimate partner violence"--i.e., that the woman in question was murdered by a current or former partner--accounting for 93% of that 55%--or a current or former partner's friends or family--accounting for the remaining 7%. Women are murdered by strangers only 16% of the time. So while it's not literally "always the husband", the police and the media and society at large are absolutely right to be very suspicious of a murdered woman's spouse, boyfriend, or other partner.)

The police start off generically sympathetic toward Nick. And in a sense, the reader should be, too. "He's not reacting correctly" is a bullshit accusation that fucks up real-world cases left and right. It's the kind of shit that gets rape survivors dismissed and disbelieved for not performing victimhood correctly. It's the kind of shit that gets people put in prison for crimes they didn't commit. Reacting oddly to a traumatic, stressful experience is not actually evidence. And in this case, the big twist of the novel is that no, Nick did not kill his wife. He didn't abduct her, either. Amy faked her own death and disappearance in a bid to frame him as a murderer.

But as time goes by and Nick becomes more and more suspicious, his life begins to fall apart before his eyes. People he trusted, people he expected to trust him begin to turn on him as his secrets are revealed. It turns out that Nick isn't exactly the great guy that he wants the world to believe him to be.

The reader, though? The reader should already know this. Right off the bat, Nick's own point of view makes it very clear that he's a misogynist. He's a neglectful and psychologically abusive husband who justifies his behavior as not abusive because it's not as bad as his father was to his mother--while mocking his father for thinking he wasn't abusive because he didn't actually hit his wife. (Abusive men create goalposts that they can clear. Abusive men shouldn't get to set their own goalposts.) Nick goes on about how he's so close with his misogynistic, one-of-the-boys, not-like-those-other-girls twin sister, Go (short for Margo), and says sorry-not-sorry for taking Go's side when she antagonizes and needles his wife.

I must reiterate that everything I'm saying about Nick is from his portion of the narration. This is what he confesses to while internally believing himself to be an okay-if-not-good guy. This is not what Amy (an unreliable narrator if ever there was one, but more on that in a minute) accuses him of. This is what he claims for himself.

He admits to moving Amy out to a part of the country where she doesn't know anyone. He admits to failing to realize that his wife doesn't have friends or any social life outside of him (later, it is revealed that she actually did make a friend, Noelle, and he missed that, too). He doesn't remember facts about his wife. He is incapable of completing (and bitter about) his wife's yearly anniversary treasure hunt comprised of clues reflecting on their most recent year of marriage. He piles pressure on her. He has an affair with one of his students.

Nick is not a good guy. He thinks he is, sure, but he's not. He's mean and neglectful and manipulative and misogynistic, and as I went into this knowing that Amy was faking her own disappearance and presumably out to get him in one sense or another, I wasn't sure if I was on Amy's side... but I was positive that I wasn't on Nick's side.

As for Amy... The self that she presents in the first half of the novel is not the person that she really is. Her POV segments within the first 50% of the book are all entries in a diary specifically written to cast herself in the most sympathetic light possible while casting suspicion on her husband. And the Amy that's contained within those pages is a frustrating person. She's the picture of internalized misogyny. She rails against "those other girls" who nag their husbands and dare to have expectations and get passive-aggressive (you know, bitchy) when those expectations are inevitably not met. Amy is an extreme doormat who never could've imagined being a housewife during her big city life in New York but who now loves her Midwestern housewifery and complete servitude under the patriarchy. In other words, Amy sucks. She's pitiful, and she's pitiable, and she's actually a fucking mastermind carefully crafting a narrative during the year before she puts her plan into action.

And that's the twist. Amy is not who she wants us to think she is. She might be emotionally neglected and psychologically abused by Nick, but she is not ever-apologizing and Stepford. She is calculating and an expert chess master. She perfectly sets up Nick's downfall, and the way she calls out the various patriarchal oppressors of her life--from her shitty husband and exploitative parents to society's expectations of women and the women who eagerly conform to those expectations (including, at one point, herself)--is delightful, especially when given in the context of the reveal of her revenge.

But that only takes us to the 50% point of this story. At that point, I was ready to call this novel "a feminist masterpiece" and put it down as a new favorite, and I was desperately hoping that nothing would happen in the second half to dampen my adoration for this novel.

Dear gods was I disappointed. I genuinely cannot recall having been more let down by a book. While the first half of this novel is a wonderful rage-against-the-patriarchy feminist revenge story, the second half of the book backtracks on that hard. Now that Amy has revealed herself to be the villain, the narrative begins bending over backward to make Nick sympathetic. Suddenly he's not so bad! His misogyny isn't mentioned anymore; his sister's misogyny isn't mentioned anymore. He's a good guy in bad circumstances, that's all! He's just the victim of some crazy bitch. "Never stick your dick in crazy", right?

Excuse me while I go vomit.

And no, I'm not exaggerating. There's literally a line in there that can be paraphrased as "it's typical for other men to call their exes crazy, but mine really is". Ew. And boy does Flynn go out of her way to make Amy just a crazy harpy in the second half of the book.

As much as the Nick from the first half of the book is completely different (and is treated completely different by the story itself) from the Nick who exists in the second half of the book, the Amy from the second half of the book is an entirely different person from the first half. And no, before you tell me, "That's because the Amy from the diaries was a lie!", that's not what I'm talking about. What I mean is that the Amy who masterfully set up the events of the first half of this thriller is nothing like the bungling idiot villain that shows up in the second half.

If the Amy from the first half of the novel is a vengeful feminist chess master masquerading as a doting and mistreated housewife, the Amy from the second half of the novel is a bizarre combination of easily-taken moron and stereotypical crazy ex-girlfriend. Suddenly she's revealed to have made fake rape accusations in the past. (That's a shitty and problematic plot point to include, but it's not exactly a far cry from vengefully framing her husband for her murder, so okay I guess?) And then she's revealed by an old schoolmate to have always been crazy and violent because, as the female former friend and classmate (who Amy framed as a violent stalker who pushed her down a flight of stairs) theorizes, Amy just can't allow anyone to see that she's not perfect.

So in one fell swoop, any hint of this being a feminist revenge story is put to rest. With that bit about the old friend, Flynn definitely tells the reader, "No, that's not what we're doing here," and like... that's what I liked about your book, dude. If that's not what we're doing here, what the fuck am I doing here? I've got better things to do than read another "Don't stick your dick in crazy" story.

Basically, between the suddenly swerve into a typical "bitches be crazy" plot in which the pretty women are evil and crazy, the "ugly" women are good and kind to men, and the feminists are abusive and insane, and the way the narrative just suddenly forgets that Nick is a misogynistic, neglectful, dismissive, cheating asshole (because obviously we can just forget that now that we're no longer trying to convince the reader that he's a murderer, right?)... I mean, I'm just kind of left standing around wondering when the feminist masterpiece that I thought I was reading turned into a misogynistic fairy tale about crazy women and their feminine craziness.

Like, what the fuck?

Genuinely, it's baffling. The first half of this story was feminist. It truly was. It presented its misogynistic characters as wrong for their misogyny. Misogynstic men were presented as bad. Women suffering from internalized misogyny were, you know, suffering from it. And then about 60% of the way through, the story just took a headfirst dive into misogyny and drowned any feminist themes it had nurtured thus far.

Let's take a look at our female characters.

Amy is nominally a feminist. She presents a misogynstic false persona in order to exploit the patriarchal systems that demand internalized misogyny from victimized women. When this persona is revealed false, she calls it out as the misogynistic twaddle it was. (She specifically references the most aggravating segment of the diary's misogyny to call it out, and that was oh-so-very satisfying.) She provides spot-on-commentary on performative gender roles in male-female friendships and romantic relationships. She's a fucking feminist.

And then she's not. As we get further and further away from the point of the reveal, Amy's transformation from interalized misogynist to angry feminist to angry misogynist is complete. She's no longer calling out women for not performing patriarchy correctly, as she did in the diary. She's not even really calling out men's actions within the patriarchy anymore so much as she is raging against the people she feels have wronged her personally. And what she starts doing is throwing gender slurs around while insulting other women for not being whatever she wants them to be. Not for being cogs in a larger system of oppression. Mostly just for being people who aren't her.

And so Amy reveals herself as a misogynist.

Then there's Margo. Nick's twin sister is a "all women suck but me" type. Nick mentions it, Margo affirms it, and Margo spends the first half of the novel performing "just one of the boys" internalized misogyny. Nick literally has a line stating that she doesn't consider herself a woman, and that's not meant in the trans/nonbinary sense. Go thinks of herself as "one of the boys" in the "women suck and I won't be associated with them" sense. It's gross. And guess what? When the narrative decides to conveniently forget everything bad about Nick, it does the same for Go. Her misogyny is never mentioned again once Amy takes center stage as a stereotypical female villain. (Nick, meanwhile, still makes cutting remarks about how "women are crazy"--immediately clarifying that yes, he means all women--which are views now being presented as justified if not outright correct.)

Then we have Andie. Poor, lacking-a-personality Andie who is a walking stereotype of naive young female sexuality for Amy to spew her own misogyny at. She isn't misogynistic so much as her existence within the story is; she is a cardboard cutout of a character put into the story so that Nick can hoist himself by his own petard. She is the reason for the plot, in the end. Nick cheats, so Amy gets crazy. Nick breaks up with Andie, so Andie turns against Nick. It's dumb.

Amy's mother Marybeth is barely a character. She comes as part of a set with her husband, and all we really get of her is that A) she monetized her daughter's childhood, B) she was probably as emotionally neglectful and abusive as Amy claims, and C) she and her husband can't handle money and bankrupted themselves and Amy.

Greta, who Amy befriends while on the run, is a presumably-impoverished domestic abuse victim that steals all of Amy's money. The less said about this, the better. It was by far the stupidest scene in the book.

Shawna is an undesirable woman who publicly lies about and besmirches Nick after he rejects her.

Noelle is an easily-manipulated, happily-barefoot-and-pregnant housewife who Amy tricks into being a pawn in her revenge scheme.

And Detective Boney not only shows up with a dumb-as-fuck name but remains on Nick's side throughout the entire book for no reason other than that she's a homely woman who reminds Nick of his mother or some such bullshit? I don't know, there's honestly no good reason for it. TVTropes tells me that in the section of the novel I didn't read, she apparently questions "why [Amy] wants to go back to the husband she's portrayed as an abusive adulterer" as if that doesn't happen all the goddamn time in real life. In other words: Boney is a cluelessly oblivious, victim-blaming misogynist who gets to play the role of "one of the good ones" because she's not hot. Um, okay?

But honestly? My biggest complaint about this novel is simple. The first half of the story, when read with the knowledge that Amy was the mastermind behind the whole situation, was thrilling. It was a great story, and that carried through a ways after the reveal, too. But the further we got into the second half of the story--the further we got from the reveal--the more this book morphed into the story of how to exonerate Nick from his wife's frame job, the more infuriating and outright boring it became. I didn't pick up Gone Girl to read about how a shitty-but-innocent man gets out of being framed; I picked it up to read about a mind-screw in which a "crazy" woman frames her husband for murder.

Basically, if the first half of the book had been tweaked to stand alone, with the reveal serving as the climax or stinger, I would've adored this novel. But Flynn was obviously more interested in writing a story about a man overcoming murder accusations, and... why?

Seriously, why? The Internet tells me that this story was actually inspired by the Laci Peterson case in which a handsome and outwardly good husband acted cold and calm after the disappearance of his pregnant wife. Like Nick, he was having an affair. Unlike Nick, the fucker was guilty. Gillian Flynn obviously decided that having the wife be a sociopathic master manipulator was an interesting twist to that story, and I agree wholeheartedly. But to have the story end without the man actually going down for the crime... I genuinely have to ask, what in the fuck was she thinking?

And then we have the possibly apocryphal claim that the original title of the book was going to be "Psycho Bitch", which... Christ, that's just openly admitting that the entire point was to write a story about, well, a "psycho bitch". Since that's literally just unambiguous misogyny at that point, I can only hope that this isn't true.

In any case, I put this book down at about 80% of the way through and did not pick it up again. I will not be picking it up again. I'm honestly not even sure if I'm going to bother reading any of Flynn's other books, because if this could so perfectly appeal to me only to throw all of my enjoyment back in my face like it did, I don't know if I can expect the rest of her catalogue to be any better.

I had really high hopes for this one being a new favorite of mine--I was so delighted with what this book pretended to be before it went off the rails--and I am honestly just so utterly disappointed to be writing this negative review.

Seriously, if anyone has any legit feminist revenge fantasy stories to recommend, let me know about 'em. I never really appreciated how much I would enjoy reading that particular niche until this book proved not to fit it after all.

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