Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On the Bookshelf: Gone Girl

This is one of those novels that will sit in the back of your mind, in a corner you forget about on an everyday basis, and then all of a sudden, from nowhere, you'll remember how thoroughly insane a person can be and you'll shiver before going about your business again. GIllian Flynn has managed to write an account of such boldly psychopathic behavior, while including the everyday nature of relationships and melds them so seamlessly that, of the main characters, one moment you're thinking "ok, I get this" and the next you're thinking "this is absolutely terrifying". It's not the terrifying of horror stories where the monster is some fantastical creature who must be defeated before unadulterated happiness can return by the end; it's the kind of terror of a seemingly normal human being willing to delve in to the deep end of depravity, live there and revel in their ability to hurt people and still look like the person who's walking their dog at night. And let's face it, that kind of terror is always more capable of clinging to our psyche. These are things that can happen, do happen, might happen to us because we're just as seemingly normal. It's the difference between being terrified of Ted Bundy because he might actually be in the backseat of your car and being frightened of say "IT" a diabolical clown who lives in the sewer.
Centered on one impossibly good-looking, intelligent, "it" (non-capitalized) couple "Gone Girl" is actually a thriller, wrapped in a mystery, under the guise of a perfect relationship. Nick Dunne, formerly a journalist of a pop-culture magazine in New York, has been forced to move his brilliant, beautiful, and also unemployed wife, Amy, from the sophisticated, City life she's always known to what is, to most East Coasters the illustration of the word "Po-Dunk", Carthage, Missouri. Nick's mother is dying of cancer, Nick's emotionally cancerous father has been diagnosed with Alzheimers and Nick's twin sister, Margo, needs help dealing with both of them. Over the next three years, the recession deepens, along with the resentment, resulting in a neutered relationship between Nick and Amy, until she goes missing on the morning of their fifth anniversary.
The novel begins on "The Day Of". I like the specificity of knowing that THIS is THE DAY that will change everything. It seems such a certainty. But then, there is nothing that is certain about the first part of this book. This section, titled "Boy Loses Girl" tells the story of the current Nick Dunne and the past Amy, in diary form. While Nick's section starts on the morning of this fateful day, Amy's tale begins at the beginning of her story with Nick. This first part tells the story of their relationship from both points of view, memories of what made it great in the beginning and acknowledgement that it's not so great now. Tales of their move from the city, the abrupt change in disposition on both sides, it works as a great setup for telling the story of their relationship, essentially from opposite ends until they meet in the middle, in the present, in the murky water of "what really happened".
But it's in the second section that this story really picks up the pace. I won't name this section because, if you've read it, you know what it refers to and if you haven't read it, you might be able to extrapolate what it refers to. However, it delves deeper into Amy's disappearance, the revelation of what happened to Amy and the realization of what will happen to Nick. By the time the final section comes around, the utter and complete insanity and terror at the nature of truly persistent, perfectionist human beings is made clear, until all that's left to feel at the end is an empty, black hole in the pit of your stomach that occurs when you hear about situations you can't really imagine, even though there's proof that they really exist.
The thriller aspect of this novel is invigorating in a strange way. It shines a new light on the old formula of mysteries, although what it does do, along with all of the great mysteries, the reader truly doesn't see it coming. It's a novel that's just packed with so much brutal honesty, not just about the disappearance, but about the nature of relationships, that sometimes you're forced to cringe at the truth of it all. This is another novel that takes the notion of perception and runs with it. It plays with the ideas of who we think we are, how we want other people to think we are, how they actually view us and what happens when the secrets that maintain that perception begin to unravel. Psychology is central to this book and many of the insights, although wrapped in fiction, feel so true and factual and that's what makes it all the more effective for the reader. Everything that the characters think seems logical, and at one point or another, most of us have probably thought the same things. It's the acknowledgement that we're all the same in the very darkest parts of ourselves and that the line that separates criminal from socially acceptable only takes a second to cross; the frightening universality that at some point or other, we will be forced to become the worst version of ourselves, that forms a novel that is both depressing and yet, unable to be put down. Like the unknowing American audience watching Amy's disappearance on crime shows dedicated to one person's opinion (Yeah, that's you Nancy Grace) we think we want to know the truth, we HAVE to know what happened because that COULD be anyone, until the truth turns out to be something that we couldn't even fathom.
It's a smart, sharp book that reflects our flaws back to us, and yet still makes us wonder "what's wrong with other people?!" The pendulum of blame keeps the mystery going, but it's the truth between the lines, the moments of honesty that are the most addictive part of this novel. 



4 out of 5

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