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‘Gone Girl’: Flynn crafts compelling mystery despite unlikable leads

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Reading “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn (Crown, 2012) is a lot like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie: You feel a sense of frustration and anxiety, the desire to solve the underlying mystery and the hope that everything is resolved for the characters properly in the end.

Unlike in most Hitchcock films, however, the main characters in “Gone Girl” – a married couple in their 30s, Nick and Amy Dunne – are both pretty rotten human beings. Despite the unlikable leads, the book is well written, cleverly constructed and offers a perspective on modern marriage, albeit a very dysfunctional one, in America.

“Gone Girl” is crafted as a “he said, she said” mystery, with Nick taking a turn at describing their courtship, marriage and the sudden disappearance of his wife. Amy tells the story from her viewpoint via diary entries. Combined, their narratives provide snapshots of their first date and their first five years of married life. We follow Nick and Amy as they meet at a New York City bar, experience rather rapid declines in their careers and relocate from New York to Nick’s small, rural hometown of North Carthage, Mo., to care for his elderly, ill parents.

Flynn offers flawed, chilling portraits of both Nick and Amy – not a pretty picture. They may be among the most selfish people you will ever encounter in fiction. Nick becomes utterly disenchanted with his high-strung wife and has no real interest in taking care of his parents. Amy grows angry at Nick’s indifference, and she heartily dislikes living away from the city where she was born and raised, and the people she meets in Nick’s hometown.

While a summary may make “Gone Girl” sound like a depressing read, it most definitely is not. When Amy disappears near the beginning of the book, readers will be engrossed in the mystery and other characters’ reactions to it. Flynn also adeptly exposes who Nick and Amy really are beneath the good-looking, ├╝ber-capable facades that they show to the world.

The unraveling of the Dunnes’ marriage is a key theme in the book, with Flynn chronicling how marriage can change a person so completely: “Over just a few years, the old Amy, the girl of the big laugh and the easy ways, literally shed herself, a pile of skin and soul on the floor, and out stepped this new, brittle, bitter Amy.”

While it may be fascinating to get to know the characters, ultimately “Gone Girl” may be too black for some, though they will most certainly want to turn the final page to see how the book ends.

Leslie Ashmore is a longtime Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.

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