Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn

Crown Publishers


I feel myself trying to be charming, and then I realize I’m obviously trying to be charming, and then I try to be even more charming to make up for the fake charm, and then I’ve basically turned into Liza Minelli: I’m dancing in tights and sequins, begging you to love me.

                                        from  Gone Girl


Anatomy of a marriage, and maybe murder

In my university philosophy class, we were told that, in addition to the partners, any relationship also contains each partner’s projection of the other person—how we see him or her—so that when two people go to bed together, there are actually four people in that bed. I suspect Professor Canning’s more profound point was lost on our group of college sophomores, fantasizing with glazed eyes being part of a foursome.

Who we are and who we seem is key to Gillian Flynn’s mystery thriller, Gone Girl. We are reminded that things are not always as they appear. In fact, things rarely are.

Amy Elliot Dunne is missing; there are signs that she was abducted, possibly killed, and her husband, Nick Dunne, looks like the prime suspect.

The novel is narrated by Nick and Amy in alternating chapters, Amy through her diary, providing the anatomy of a marriage, and possibly a murder. We learn of their previously happy marriage in New York City (“We do silly things, like last weekend we drove to Delaware because neither of us ever had sex in Delaware”) but everything changes when they lose their jobs in the 2008 recession (“His and her lay-offs, isn’t that sweet?”)

They move back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri—“a quaint little 1950s town that bloated itself into a basic midsize suburb and dubbed it progress.” Nick and his twin sister, Margo, buy a bar with Amy’s inherited money to ride out the recession, but Amy, coming from a sophisticated, well-to-do East coast family, becomes increasingly unhappy stuck in the Midwest, and their marriage begins to buckle under the strain (“There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.”)

Aside from the mystery of what happened to Amy Dunne, there is some clever and insightful writing about relationships. Nick realizes his wife is “only remotely like the woman I fell in love with.” Amy wonders “if that is at the root of his distaste for me: He’s let me see his shortcomings, and he hates me for knowing them.” Nick confides, “Amy likes to play God when she’s not happy. Old Testament God.”

“Isn’t that what every marriage is, anyway?” concludes Amy. “Just a lengthy game of he-said, she-said?”

He-said, she-said, indeed! As we read their chapters, our sympathies slide back and forth between the two of them. The revelations keep coming, and with each one, marriage seems less and less like a good idea. Even for avid readers of thrillers, this is probably not the best book to give as a wedding present.


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (September 15-October 14, 2012.) Reprinted with permission.