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Being manipulated by a book not all bad

bookGone Girl is currently the most popular novel in America and it has been around since 2012; it is also now a major motion picture starring Ben Affleck. Gillian Flynn’s  “thriller” (and it is definitely that!) is a favorite topic on talk shows with America’s favorite critics discussing why this wicked little crime novel has captured this country’s imagination. Well, I am among the enthralled, and I think it all began with O. J. Simpson. As soon as we, the audience, joined that helicopter that followed O.J. down the interstate on the day he was arrested, we became members of a new kind of “instant journalism.”


Gone Girl owes its current popularity to our obsession with “crime as entertainment.” I am referring to the world of Casey Anthony, Scott Peterson (remember him, charged with murdering his wife and son?) and, of course, that shameless and deranged hussy, Jodi Arias. We know that they are all guilty because Nancy Grace, the Queen of the Harpies, has told us so. All of these “players” have had their lives exposed like dirty laundry while we, the media junkies, (yes, I am one, too) spend much of our time listening to the latest shocking revelation and meditating on each new bit of sordid trash.

(It is almost impossible to discuss this novel without tampering with its primary appeal which is cliff-hanging suspense. If you haven’t read Gone Girl yet, this review might give you a few spoilers, but I will try to avoid them.) 

The book’s first-person narration is equally divided between the two protagonists (although protagonist doesn’t seem to be the right descriptive term for these two very unpleasant people.) They are Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott, two very attractive people who have just celebrated their fifth anniversary. As we read their “confessions,” we come to realize that they are vain, arrogant and self-centered, and their marriage is in trouble. However, that is OK because they are so interesting. They dine out on lobster, socialize with the rich and privileged and, as long as they let us ride along for a few vicarious thrills, we don’t really mind.

The first major problem that becomes evident is money. Nick and Amy are living on Amy’s money. Bit by bit, we learn that Amy is something of a child prodigy who wrote a series of very successful children’s book’s about a little girl called “Amazing Amy.” Under the supervision of her parents, Amy (and her parents) became wealthy. It is not surprising that Amy is accustomed to having things her way. Nick is a fledgling journalist and grinds out witty news about celebrities. This “dream couple” live in New York and their daily lives are spent in upscale restaurants, talking to exciting people and shopping, shopping, shopping. Ah, but then, things change.

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Since Amy keeps a diary, we learn that she has an unrewarding job writing a kind of etiquette trivia for second-rate women’s magazines. Her articles have titles like “Five Characteristics of a Perfect Marriage.” When she loses her job, Amy assures us that she isn’t distressed since she is resilient like “Amazing Amy” in her books. When Nick’s mother becomes ill, his parents settle into their home in Hannibal, Mo.

Since Nick’s father has Alzheimer’s, Nick decides to move to Hannibal to and, using Amy’s money, he opens a bar. Then, Amy’s parents confess that they “mismanaged” their money, so they appeal to their daughter for emergency funds. After bailing her parents out, Amy discovers that she and Nick are broke. Now Nick, who has taken a job teaching at a community college, decides to have an affair with one of his students, a lush little number named Andie (who requires a lot of attention). The stage is set for disaster and it arrives with considerable fanfare.

Amy disappears. From this point on, Gone Girl reads like the Nancy Grace show on CNN. Of course, instead of Nancy, we have a marvelous clone, Ellen Abbott, who resembles Nancy in every detail. Ellen is called “an opportunistic ratings whore” who keeps her audience on Nick’s life.

When the police find evidence of blood splatter in the Dunne apartment, Ellen uses her show to demand, “Where is Amy?” The media arrives and Nick’s daily life becomes a living hell as he rushes to keep appointments with the police, another clandestine meeting with Andie and, eventually, a strategy meeting with his celebrity lawyer, Tanner Bolt or the talk-show host, Sharon Schieber (who dresses and talks like Oprah), and who is sympathetic to Nick’s dilemma ... well, until she heard about Andie, the college student.

Now comes the clincher. In the beginning, readers of this clever and menacing little thriller tend to believe their narrators. However, at some point, even the most gullible reader experiences a “shadow of a doubt.”

What if one of them is lying? Is it possible that Nick has killed his wife? How else can you account for the excessive blood stains that the police find in the apartment? One of Nick’s laments in his narrative is that he is being framed ... by Amy! Is that possible? Before it is over, everyone decides to abandon Nick, even his twin, Margo (called “Go”) who has remained loyal until she finds evidence that Nick is already spending the insurance money from Amy’s death. Is it credible that a character could be so devious he/she could fabricate their own death?

Well, I will stop at this point and let you find the truth (whatever that is) about Amy’s marvelous “treasure hunts” that she creates for each of the wedding anniversaries ... treasure hunts that send Nick, armed with a clue, on a frustrating search for his present. You are going to discover that you have been artfully controlled by a master writer. 

A friend of mine who read Gone Girl when it first appeared called it a “hell of a ride,” and noted that he enjoyed being manipulated. That is the right word. It is a despicable practice when performed by used car salesmen and politicians ... but for a writer like Gillian Flynn, it is an enviable art. Loved this book and I intend to love the movie when Netflix finally acquires it.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Broadway Books, 2012. 418 pages.

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