Friday, October 12, 2012

Gone Girl--Gillian Flynn (Guest review by Tim Wuebker)

What happens when people with all of the brains, looks, charm, education, and pedigree in the world spiral into an unbelievable losing streak?

Amazing Amy is missing.  Amy is gorgeous, talented, self-disciplined, brilliant, and many men’s fantasy.  Yes, she is a mesmerizing beauty.  But she is also razor smart and always fun.  She’s a smart aleck: she doesn’t like women who boss their men around, and refers to those husbands/boyfriends as “dancing monkeys.”  They always show up and do the bidding of their wives, who apparently just like to see them jump.

What makes Amy so Amazing?  Her parents.  To a scary degree, Amy is a fictional character.  That is, her parents wrote twenty books for teens about her, the Amazing Amy series.  Except Amy’s parents wrote about the daughter they never had: Amy refracted through rose-colored lens—Amy if she were perfect.  When the real life Amy had trouble in school, Amazing Amy didn’t pout or cause problems.  She solved the problems with hard work and determination.  When real Amy lost the perfect boyfriend through her bad behavior, Amazing Amy won him back.  When real Amy lost her job as a premiere New York writer and her marriage got rocky, Amazing Amy….

It’s a lot of pressure, even for a gorgeous girl with near perfect SATs to live up to.  Real Amy made mistakes.  But Amazing Amy always lands on her feet with panache and good cheer!

And now Amy’s gone.  Maybe dead.

Who kidnapped or killed her?

Part One alternates between Amy’s diary (covering the last five years) leading up to her disappearance, and the story of her husband’s life starting with Day One of the missing girl investigation. 

Nick is charming, an adjunct college professor, the co-owner of The Bar (paid for with Amy’s trust fund), and—once you get past his easy glamour--everyone’s idea of the least sympathetic husband on earth.  He’s also hyper self-aware, so he knows all of his flaws.  He even knows that his self-awareness isn’t born of humility, but of narcissism.  Nick can’t stomach criticism, and he wants everyone to always think the best of him.  So, he withholds information, and not just from the cops or his twin sister, but from us: the readers. 

When he’s finally forced to admit to a devastating revelation, he tells us in advance that he’s about to say something that will make us hate him.   Hate him.   Abhor him; wish evil upon him.  And his admission sort of works: you know he may be guilty of murder, but you hope he isn’t.  You know he’s a selfish liar who has hurt others, but you root for him anyway, just like maybe you rooted for Sherman McCoy in Bonfire of the Vanities.

I would love to tell you more, but I can’t.  Because the author, Gillian Flynn, is absolutely in control of every element of the story. 

One third of the way in, Ms. Flynn hit me so hard with a shocking surprise that I never would’ve guessed it if I’d taken out a sheet of paper and you’d paid me $100 for every hypothetical plot twist I could have come up with.  Believe me, I would have listed at least $20,000 worth, and none of them would have been as good as what Gillian Flynn unveiled.

Let’s just say that Flynn is highly deceptive.  If fiction is about misdirection, then I hope Ms. Flynn lives to be the oldest woman in the world and writes a book a year, because once the major surprise hit, I was destabilized. 

I couldn’t read fast enough.  Then she shocked me again.  Several times.

When an author is this adept at plot and twists, it’s easy to race through a book and not appreciate the depth of the characterization.  But Flynn shows so many sides to her complex characters, Nick and Amy, that when I finished Gone Girl, I wanted to start over.  I wanted a sequel.

Plot.  Three-dimensional characterization.  Powerful language.  And a devastating portrayal of setting: America, post 2009.  More than just the economy crashes in Gone Girl.  When people’s hopes get shredded, so does their veneer of being civilized people: the charm goes, and they act out of their rawest wounds, all claws and teeth, lashing out even when they know it’s self-destructive, caught in a death spiral, all the while feeling they withdraw and regroup from what they are doing, but if Gone Girl illustrates one principle of psychology with total veracity, it’s that our emotions are so much more powerful than our reason.

I only wish one thing were different: the ending.  That’s why I think: sequel. 

There’s also foul language, sexual depravity, and a portrayal of porn as a mainstream behavior.   But maybe parts of our society are already there.  And taken within the context of Flynn’s dark vision, these NC-17 elements make sense, but readers deserve a fair warning.

If you like buying mysteries or contemporary novels for friends, I’d give them Gone Girl.  The plot alone is worth it, but what Flynn does with psychology and setting is masterful.  I am thrilled that Ms. Flynn has two novels I haven’t read: Dark Places and Sharp Objects.  They’re next.

Tim Wuebker is an author from the greater Kansas City area. He's also a teacher who has had students from every continent, facilitated 11 kinds of college English classes, and taught six kinds of high school math. His latest novel, 2029, is a thriller available for Kindle on Amazon.  Find Tim on Facebook at


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  3. It was a wild ride, and I loved every minute. I normally don't like books with so much dysfunction, but this one totally worked for me. Mostly because I never expected what would happen next. I read Sharp Objects after Gone Girl and it's good, too, but not quite as crazy as Gone Girl.

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