I had one big concern that initially kept me away from this book: what if this was one of those Highbrow Crime Books, where the murder or kidnapping or whatever is really just a MacGuffin that only serves to causes a lot of lengthy inner monologues and well-phrased intellectual reflections on the characters’ family issues or whatever? What if this is one of those books where the crime isn’t actually the point of the story, and at the end we’re never given a satisfying solution to the original mystery, because “the mystery was not the point.” This has happened twice to me, first with Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend (where apparently the mystery of who killed a ten-year-old boy, the mystery that starts the story, “is not the point” because that makes sense) and more recently with Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (where the disappearance of two women is actually just an excuse for two men to hash out their personal issues), and I was wary. There were many red flags in the plot description, which goes like this: on the morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick Dunne’s wife Amy vanishes from their home without a trace. Nick is the prime suspect in her disappearance, and as the investigation continues, more details surface about Nick, Amy, and the true state of their marriage.
Frankly, that sounds like a minefield of intellectual fakeouts. What if I started the book, wanting a good crime story, only to find out that Amy’s disappearance was merely an excuse for a lot of meditations on marriage and modern relationships and other things that are not nearly as interesting as the search for a missing and possibly murdered woman? I didn’t think I could handle it if Gone Girl turned out to be That Book again.
But rest assured, dear readers: Gone Girl is not That Book. Gone Girl is smart, yes, and it’s intricate, and yes, there are a lot of meditations on relationships (Flynn has some really interesting things to say on the myth of The Cool Girl, which I don’t have enough space to quote in their entirety) and marriage, but this is a crime thriller, pure and simple. Scratch that – this is a really, really good crime thriller, pure and simple.
No, scratch that – Gone Girl is the best episode of Law and Order: SVU that has never existed. It’s pulpy, melodramatic, crime-thriller fun, and part of its brilliance is that even if you think you’ve guessed some of the plot twists, you’re never quite sure if this is the sort of book that would do such things. For instance, Nick is so blatantly suspicious in the first half of the book that, were this a regular detective novel, I would immediately write him off as a suspect because no one who seems that guilty could possibly be the real culprit. But this isn’t a regular detective novel, so I didn’t know what direction Flynn was planning to take things. Basically I spent the entire first half thinking wildly, “But no! …but yes?” And don’t worry: you find out what really happened to Amy. Her disappearance is the actual plot, not just a catalyst.
The book isn’t perfect – the narration has its fair share of clunkers (“In the decade since, Tanner Bolt had become known as the Hubby Hawk – his specialty was swooping down in high-profile cases to represent men accused of murdering their wives.”) and the ending wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. Without giving away spoilers, I felt that it didn’t live up to the breathless, twist-a-chapter pace of the rest of the story, and I wanted something significantly more explosive to happen in the last few pages. Gone Girl ends not with a bang, but with a whimper, and while I understand that this was the more realistic choice, I’m still docking a star out of spite. I wanted a bang.
Verdict: four out of five stars