Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, begins with a common-enough whodunit premise. On the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing, leaving behind the first clue of her annual treasure hunt anniversary gift and the tell-tale signs of a struggle.

Naturally, suspicion swirls around Nick, a former-journalist turned down-on-his-luck bar owner in once happy but now troubled marriage. There's only one problem, not only is Nick our main character, he's also our narrator, as we observe the story from his first-person perspective.

How do you maintain a mystery when the reader has an inside look at the brain of the police's one and only suspect? That, in essence, is the central device of Gone Girl, which Flynn plays like a drum, bouncing between the unreliable narrator of Nick's introspection and passages from Amy's journal entries, which ensnaring you in doubt as the inconsistencies become more frequent and more troublesome.

The book twists and turns as Nick yearns for catharsis by following the treasure hunt breadcrumbs of his missing wife as the evidence and public vitriol mounts against him. And that's just Act I, as the first portion of the plot hinges on an eye-popping reveal that completely changes the game beyond a simple "Where is Amy?" I should stop there with the synopsis, I've already said too much.

Unfortunately, the book deflates in ACT III. When it finally comes time to deliver on the heavily-built-up mystery and intrigue, Gone Girl finds itself painted into a rather constricting corner. It's not enough to undue the impressive work that led up to it – I still find myself ruminating on the story weeks later – but after several jaw-dropping twists and a relentless narrative that keeps you awake for hours wanting to read just one more chapter, the story stumbles hastily toward a too-quick finish like a hurdler tripped up by the final bar.

It is unfortunate, since Flynn nonetheless manages to create one of the most unique cat and mouse games I've ever read only to toss the tension aside in a conclusion that is unsatisfying for any and all of the carefully-constructed characters (including the most unapologetically evil individual since Steinbeck's East of Eden).  Borrowing from the old fiction-writing adage, Flynn puts a gun on the wall in Act I, but in ACT III it merely falls down without discharging.

Still, even with its weak conclusion, Gone Girl remains a wildly entertaining and deliciously deceptive tale of betrayal, desperation and yes, murder.

Grade: B+

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