Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I begin with the obligatory “If you haven’t read this and you hate spoilers, read no further.” Okay? Still with me? Righty-ho.

Take a healthy dollop of the darkly comedic marital disaster film “The War of the Roses”, sprinkle in some mind-bending scenes from “Momento”, add a dash of Stephen King everyman folksy-creepiness and drizzle it all with the blood of an Ann Rule true crime sociopath and you get the spicy stew of Gone Girl.

I enjoyed this as an entertaining thriller and for Flynn’s crisp and sparkling writing, but its principal characters – the primed-for-perfection Amy and her witless spouse Nick – and the characterization of their sham marriage are too cartoonish and ridiculous to sustain deep themes. Although there are elements of social satire, I’m taking it at face value as a literary thriller. The author invests her energy in confounding the reader with plot twists, skimming the surface of the superficiality of attraction and the fleeting nature of success.

I never try to get to the bottom of a whodunit when I read thrillers – I’m not that clever – I just enjoy going along for the ride. But even I figured out that Amy is a whack job – and still very present among us – as her diary burbles along – long before she surfaces at a roadside motel in the Ozarks. That doesn’t diminish the fun, but Flynn demands considerable suspension of disbelief, which does diminish the element of surprise. It also makes the back cover author blurbs a bit hard to stomach.

Yet, Flynn’s writing is just so dang good – her pacing is perfect, the dialogue is one hundred percent natural, the details of setting and character are precise and pulsing with life. There is an array of terrific secondary characters: Nick’s sister, Go, his mistress Andie, Amy’s insufferable parents, Detective Rhonda Boney – even the bit parts played by Shawna Kelly, Stucks Buckley, Nick’s Alzheimer’s-affected father, and many more – each is fully developed and believable. Which throws the Nick and Amy Show into sharper relief as pretty silly.

I say, “Read this” because the writing is superb. Enjoy the crazy ride. But don’t scratch below the surface for themes of the tangled, unfathomable web of marriage, or dysfunctional families or the tabloid press or insights into the brain of a sociopath. It’s all just too preposterous to take that seriously.

Several years ago I read Flynn’s debut Sharp Objects. My review consists of one sentence: “A wretched, ugly train wreck of a book.” Based on my experience with Sharp Objects, I intended to give Gone Girl a wide berth. I’m glad Flynn has lightened up – the fun she had in writing this current release is evident. I hope she remains in the light, not mired in self-serious gruesomeness.

But I gotta say- contrary to the hue and cry I’ve read in reader reviews – I think the ending is just perfect. Not the “held captive in the lakehouse by creepy admirer with an Oedipal complex” part. I mean the very last page. The final three paragraphs. These, at last, make the hairs on the back of my neck come to attention. What fun!

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