So this was a really fun, super fast, slightly terrifying read. I got to the middle, and then it was like I had to finish, but I was also nervous to start new chapters because each one seemed to escalate the story in a new, disturbing way! I want to talk about it, and since there's no way to talk about Gone Girl without spoiling absolutely everything, this post is full of book-ruining spoilers. Beware, etc.
Gone Girl is a pleasantly sneaky and misleading book. All the trappings of the novel -- the entire premise, even -- are just distractions from what the book is actually about: who Nick and Amy really are underneath the gloss and the defense mechanisms and the bullshit. As the reader, you're immediately faced with the problem of two narrators who seem to be telling very different, almost incompatible versions of the truth. Whose version do you trust? Nick is desperate to be liked and craves "a constant stream of approval." His sister tells him he'd do anything to convince people he's a Good Guy, and to that end he lies to everyone around him and withholds from the reader. For 138 pages his disposable cellphone rings and rings and rings, and he never answers it, never explains it until he has no other choice! And when he does: "Now is the part where I tell you I have a mistress and you stop liking me." If Nick murdered Amy, he certainly wouldn't tell us. Amy's narration seems more reliable: 215 pages of candid thoughts from her diary. She's open, she's likable, she's desperately in love with her husband who abuses her in a pattern that certainly seems to be escalating towards murder... and then you turn the page (THIS IS THE BEST PART TBH) and begin the process of realizing you're just one in a long line of Amy's victims, reeled in by a contrived persona tailored to make you like her.
There's a lot of that sort of artifice in Gone Girl. Both of the main characters struggle with their identities and believe their struggles are universal. On tumblr the most-quoted parts of the book are Nick's diatribe about how difficult it is to be a real person in the age of media saturation ("We're all reading from the same dog-eared script") and Amy's musings about her personas ("The way some women change fashion, I change personalities. I think most people do this, they just don't admit it, or else settle on one persona because they're too lazy or stupid to pull off a switch"). I think Gillian Flynn is broaching these ideas seriously, and obviously people are relating to them. (Do you guys relate to them?) But she's broaching them in serious business extremes, because Nick and Amy's struggles with identity are also indicative of personality disorders. Amy been doing this since she was a child. She talks about imitating other children to fake having fun, to fake being happy. Nick's issues are a product of his father's abusiveness, and even his twin sister can't understand his robotic behavior during Amy's disappearance.
I think Nick and Amy's story is actually kind of tragic. Their personas worked a little too well on each other! Cool Girl Amy provided Nick with the font of adoration (you are WARM you are BRILLIANT you are WITTY) he's particularly susceptible to, and being with Good Guy Nick made Amy feel so safe and happy that she decided to be herself... except Nick somewhat understandably preferred the Amy he'd fallen for. "Can you imagine finally showing your true self to your spouse, your soul mate, and having him not like you?" And boy did Nick not like her: "It had been an awful, fairy-tale reverse transformation. 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. My wife was no longer my wife, but a razor-wire knot daring me to unloop her, and I was not up to the task." The fallout is predictable. Nick strays, looking for an easy, ego-stroking approval fix from a naive younger woman. Then Amy finds out and divorces him... oh wait, that part doesn't happen. Because what Amy doesn't tell you about her true self is that SHE'S AN ACTUALFAX PSYCHOPATH.
And aaaaah, the ending! It somehow managed to totally defy my expectations and completely satisfy me at the same time! Everything seemed to be moving inevitably towards the moment when Nick would finally snap and smash in Amy's pretty skull for real. And we *do* get to that moment... but he doesn't do it. And the reasons he doesn't do it are so much more messed up than his reasons for killing her would have been! Nick takes the blame for "bringing the madness to bloom" in Amy, which seems factually incorrect; Amy only did to Nick what she'd already done to poor Hilary and Tommy. I think it's exactly the opposite. Nick changes when he realizes Amy is framing him. He suddenly engages. He finally begins succeeding at solving the puzzle of 'Real Amy' (a puzzle he'd given up on!) out of necessity. His investigation becomes proactive instead of a half-hearted performance. His Concerned Husband act goes from dismal to brilliant. He plays Amy's game, and he's good at it. He even wins a round. You can see what he means when he says he's at his most impressive when he loves and hates Amy (really: when he cares enough to keep up with her). But after he decides not to kill Amy, it's like he goes off the deep end. He gives a grab bag of disturbing reasons for not killing her, the lulziest being that he wants to win their game and put her in jail WHERE HE CAN STILL VISIT HER FROM TIME TO TIME, and the most accurate being that he decides he needs Amy to react to. Who will I be without Amy? That's why Nick's father dies apropos of nothing at the end, because Nick's crisis of identity is no longer tied up in being better than his father. Now it's irretrievably knotted up in being better than Amy: "Now at last I'm the hero. I am the one to root for in the never-ending war story of our marriage... At this point I can't imagine my story without Amy. She's my forever antagonist." Aaaaaaah!
And their poor, poor child! Nick needs it for validation, and Amy needs it for leverage over Nick! Aaaaaaaah! Honestly, if I had to have a one word reaction to this book, it would just straight up be aaaaaaaaaah!
A couple other things...
- Slate's audio book club (I disagreed with them about everythinggggggg) review of Gone Girl plugged Hannah Rosin's The End of Men by talking about Nick's passive bumbling and Amy as the breadwinner since she technically owns Nick's bar. (Thanks to her trust fund!) But for all the control Amy exerts over her marriage with Nick, she's oddly child-like on her own. She is tricked into paying $10 for milk. She blames her parents for "letting" Nick move her to Missouri. She thinks of her cash like a finite resource, like it doesn't occur to her that there could be more until Dorothy matter-of-factly mentions getting a job. She believes Dorothy has taken a grandmotherly interest in her and will allow her to stay on no matter what, but then a few pages later Dorothy is beating down her door for the rent. She imagines letting Jeff make love to her, but he helps Greta rob Amy instead. She plays damsel-in-distress for Desi. She's always casting about for someone to take care of her! I honestly can't imagine her actually pulling off her disappearance unless she killed herself. (As if. Her change of heart with regard to her suicide plan was the least surprising character development in the entire novel.)
- Desi is weak as a plot device and boring as a character, but the thought behind him is interesting since he's a collection of textbook traits of a narcissist. Image-obsessed, controlling, idealizes Amy who looks just like his overbearing mother... I guess he's a counterpoint to Nick since he remembers obscure details about Amy from when they were together, the sort of details Nick would never remember (i.e. Amy's gripe about Nick never sending her flowers vs. Desi's greenhouse full of tulips), but I also see Desi as similar to Amy. He's about as pathological as she is, and the relationship they have at the lake house isn't that different from what Nick and Amy's marriage becomes between the time Amy returns home and gets pregnant, when Nick is de facto trapped and scheming to get away.
- Hannibal being mentioned so much made me think about how Amy's misadventures in Missouri have sort of a Huck Finn flavor to them. Huck gets kidnapped ("kidnapped" in Amy's case) and fakes his own death with pig's blood and has lazy adventures with nefarious people around the Mississippi River while he pretends to be dead too.
- I had the most amazing flash of inspiration that Matt Davis should play Nick in the Gone Girl movie because he's got just the right kind of douchey good looks Nick is so self-conscious about, and he's equally good at being affable and scary. He was a better Klaus than Joseph Morgan! He's even exactly the right age (34)! Except Reese Witherspoon is playing Amy, so Matt Davis being Nick would turn it into Legally Blonde 3, boo.
I really wanted to delete like a third of this, but ugh. I'm sorry it's so long.