Sunday, October 05, 2014

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

(hb; 2012)

From the inside flap

"On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary.  Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River.  Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife's head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and media - as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents - the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior.  Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter - but is he really a killer?

"As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one they love.  With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn't do it, where is that beautiful wife?  And what is in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?"


I loved parts of this book and hated other parts of it - and by "hate," a word I rarely use in writing book reviews, it's not because the author (in this case Flynn) did her job right.  It is not because she made me form attachments with her characters before she started doing horrible things to them; it is because her writing sports some serious mistakes.

The cons of Gone.

The first hundred or a hundred and fifty pages of this four hundred and five-page novel are unnecessary and ultra-chatty, like a Ritalin-addled schoolgirl prattling on about things of little importance (it should be noted that Flynn cuts between Amy's diary and Nick's point of view in this section, but the result is the same: a better writer would have established true-to-the-characters voice variation and important detailed plot points - which do pop up, on occasion - in fifty or twenty-five pages).

I normally give a novelist twenty-five to fifty pages to impress me with their writing.  The writing can be flawed, but there has to be something to keep me turning their pages.  In this case, I only stuck with Gone for a hundred or so pages because an acquaintance - an excellent writer himself - suggested that I do so.  The end-twist, he proclaimed, was memorable in a great way.  (More on that later.)

There's a few I'm-so-clever-gotcha moments in these initial pages that were telegraphed in clumsy, voice-true fashion, but again, a better writer would have not made them read like hackwork.  So: points to Flynn for the voice-veracity element, but her gotcha-hackery. . . no.  Not good.

The ending fits the black-as-a-pulp-noir tone of Gone, but Nick - whose character has matured in the course of the excellent middle section of the novel - suddenly reverts to plot-convenient lazy-noirish stupidity, making a decision that he more likely would have made in the beginning of the novel not the end.  Nick's key stroke-forced, unlikely actions near the finish don't ring true, given all that Nick has gone through prior to the novel's denouement. 

The pros of Gone.

It is clear that Flynn worked out the twist 'n' turn OCD details of Gone.  Once Flynn has passes the awkward and overly long set-up of the first hundred or so pages, the middle section is explosive with pitch black, effective pulp-noir.  The writing gets tighter and the chapters shorter, and the book becomes difficult to set down, taking Gone into intriguing, if still-familiar territory.  Not only that, but Flynn does role-reversals well in this stretch, made me like a character I normally would, as she puts it, would like to "punch in the face."

Overall review

Check Gone out from the library or buy it used, at an ultra-cheap price.  Flynn is a writer with great promise - that middle section is proof of that - but the overly chatty hackery she evidences in with Gone shows that she has a ways to go before she could be called a great, or even a good, writer.  Or don't read Gone at all, and watch the film version, which hit stateside movie screens on October 3, 2014.

David Fincher directed the film from Gillian Flynn's screenplay. 

Ben Affleck played Nick Dunne. Rosamund Pike played Amy Dunne. Neil Patrick Harris played Desi Collings. Tyler Perry played Tanner Bolt. Carrie Coon played Margo "Go" Dunne. Kim Dickens played Rhonda Boney. Patrick Fugit played Officer Jim Gilpin. 

David Clennon played Rand Elliot.  Lisa Banes played Marybeth Elliot. Missy Pyle played Ellen Abbott. Emily Ratajkowski played Andie Hardy. Casey Wilson played Noelle Hawthorne. Sela Ward played Sharon Schieber.  Scoot McNairy played Tommy O'Hara.

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