There’s this tremendous moment halfway through Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl when the beleaguered but rather suspicious husband Nick opens the door to a creepy woodshed and begins yammering “Nonononono” in overwhelming panic and I thought hell yes, this is when the book is going to go from good to great, from kinda creepy to full-blown twisted, from Agatha Christie in the parlor to David Lynch cutting off the swaddling to reveal god knows what — bodies hanging from meat hooks? a perfect replica of a covered-up crime scene? Nick’s Rosebud? clones?!?!
Let me back up. The first half of Gone Girl is, basically, perfect. You get two competing and alternating first-person narratives, one from Nick and the other from his wife Amy. Amy disappears mysteriously (her POV is from the time leading up to her disappearance, Nick’s is from after), and suspicion begins to circle around Nick, who is completely baffled. And as the competing accounts build Flynn very effectively drops all sorts of hints that something is wrong. Not just a little wrong, but deeply, darkly, disturbingly wrong — and it all comes to a head when Nick sees what’s waiting for him in that woodshed.
The second half of Gone Girl gives all the answers. And I’m sure some people will be satisfied by them — and god knows it’s all readable enough to keep you up until 5 a.m. — but I was disappointed.
Look, I don’t really expect every book with a mystery to reach into science fiction to pull out a hand-wavey answer. But I use the bizarre excesses of scifi as exemplars of the kind of crazy thinking that’s really appropriate here. A writer can’t wind the reader up so tightly (as Flynn does so well during Gone Girl‘s first half) and then explain it all away with something mundane. But that’s what Flynn does here — and though it’s not predictable as such, the “answer” falls well within the range of things that this genre has already seen.
It’s really hard to talk about this without spoilers. So let me say a few things, in a spoilerish way, about my objections to where this book ends up.
(Perhaps I should emphasize: alert for vague spoilers.)
First: Gone Girl talks a lot about gender — a lot — in ways that demean both men and women in the beginning (battle of the sexes and all) but end up just being bad for women. I mean, the plot literally turns on the equivalent of false rape accusations and the purported female hysteria associated with this outrageously exaggerated danger. On the flip side, male transgressions — infidelity, emotional abandonment, etc. — are waved away with the equivalent of “But those bitches are crazy!” Ugh.
Second: There is a second, late twist in this book that basically requires a complete reversal from the first twist. But I just didn’t understand how the relevant person could “sell” the second twist to the world given what was done to make the first twist work. I mean, there are financial records, paper trails, and other physical evidence all done to make the first twist work — and somehow all of that stuff is waved away when the relevant person turns on a dime?
Third: The ending is kind of grotesque. You know how the advice for abused women is just to walk away? Yeah. Apparently the characters in this book think it’s better to just hug it out. That’s weird and twisted, sure, but for all the wrong reasons.