Last week, I read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl as part of my NaNoWriMo prepwork. It was a book that I’d been meaning to read for months now at the recommendation of a couple different friends, but just hadn’t been able to get past the first few chapters. But a little birdy told me that there was a female psychopath in it, and since my novel has a female psychopath in it I figured I’d give it a second try. Well, I did…and I *really* wish I hadn’t. Yes, that’s right, dear readers, I am going against the grain of pop culture’s current obsession with this book and saying this: I thought it sucked.
First of all, let me warn you right off the bat, dear readers, I will be spoiling big plot points in this book because it’s the only way to explain why I had a problem it. So if you’re planning on reading this book and don’t want things ruined for you ahead of time, stop reading this now and come back after you’ve read the book.
Alright, moving on. For those of you who have no intention of reading the book, Gone Girl is the psychological thriller (I know some people call it a mystery, but I disagree with this. I didn’t think it was a mystery story at all) detailing how Amy Elliott Dunne disappears from her house the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary and what happens after that. The first half of the story goes back and forth between chapters told from the perspective of her husband, Nick, who quickly becomes the police’s suspecto numero uno due to the fact that he chronically lies to them because he doesn’t want them to find out he’s had a 23 year-old mistress for the last year, and entries from Amy’s diary, which span approximately seven years and details the history of their marriage up until her disappearance. The diary entries run out at about the halfway point of the novel, ending with Amy writing that she’s worried that Nick might kill her.
Cut and dry spousal homicide story, right? Wrong. Flip the page and there’s a whole new section of Amy chapters. Turns out that not only is Amy very much alive, she’s also a psychopath who’s decided to frame her husband for her murder in order to punish him for cheating on her. Gotcha! The rest of the book goes back and forth between Nick, who has now figured out that Amy is framing him and trying to get her to come back and prove his innocence via videos saying how much he loves her, and Amy, who is on the run and trying to figure out what her next move should be. Through a series of events that are far too convoluted to outline here in any brief way, Amy does eventually come back to Nick. Upon her return she not only gets away with framing him and murdering another minor character, but also, because Nick’s videos have made her realize that they are soul mates who are meant for each other, she forces him to stay with her in their marriage, first through blackmail, and then through a pregnancy…which she induces herself with some of his sperm that she’d frozen a year ago.
Because I honestly don’t even know where to begin with this, I’ll just start with the midpoint 180 turn. It didn’t work for me. At all. I’m all for twists, but this one just felt like a gimmick to me. Like I wrote above, it had a “gotcha!” factor to it that I didn’t appreciate as a reader. It felt like the author was trying to trick readers as opposed to surprise them, and I personally don’t like that kind of move in books.
The second problem I had was that I had zero point of attachment with the characters, even diary Amy and even Nick after I found out he was being framed. I found them solipsistic to the point of frustration and just downright annoying throughout the entire story. I get that they’re supposed to be unsympathetic characters, but a good writer still establishes a point of attachment with an unsympathetic character (or at the very least with one of the sympathetic ones). Otherwise, the reader doesn’t care what happens, and that’s a big problem. While it is admittedly hard to establish a strong point of attachment with a psychopathic character, it can and has been done: Patricia Highsmith establishes an astoundingly good point of attachment with her psychopathic character Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley, so strong, in fact, that even after he’s killed not one but two characters you’re still rooting for him to get away with it, even though you know you shouldn’t. With the Gone Girl characters, I could care less what happened to them: I just wanted them to stop talking.
Finally, the ending. Oh, boy, the ending. First of all, Amy’s sudden shift from a vengeful cuckolded woman into pseudo-Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction over the course of a little over 50 pages was ridiculous. Like, cartoon ridiculous. I mean, turkey baster baby? Do I *really* need to say more? The justification behind this shift was equally ridiculous; Amy throughout the story is described as being extremely cunning and hyper intelligent, and yet she falls for Nick’s ploy to come back, so much so that she becomes obsessed with them staying together forever, even after he tells her verbatim that it was a ploy. It made no sense to me as a reader.
Secondly, there is a moment at the very end where Amy is forced to question her actions and her character. She recounts how Nick had told her that he felt sorry for her because every morning she has to wake up and be herself. Amy then says, “I really, truly wish he hadn’t said that. I keep thinking about it. I can’t stop.” You think that maybe, just maybe, Amy is about to be punished internally for everything that’s happened…and then the next lines are these:
I don’t have anything else to add. I just wanted to make sure I had the last word. I think I’ve earned that.
Most aggravating ending ever? Probably not, but it’s certainly up there for me. It felt to me like Flynn decided last minute that she should punish her character and not get away scott free with all the horrible things she’s done, but then back off at the ninth hour and tried to play it off as character denial. The result was this half-punished half-not weird ending that was utterly unsatisfying for me. Either punish your character or don’t, but don’t try and have it both ways like this.