Gone Girl Anniversary – The Washington Post
In 2020, I complained that “Gone Girl” had started a “fad” for made-up suspense novels “based on continuous plot reversals.” I explained that “it’s a fad whose time has come and should be over, girl.”
fat chance. The double helix structure of Gone Girl – in which husband and wife Nick and Amy Dunne tell twisted and turning stories that obsessively dramatize and undermine the details of Amy’s disappearance on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary – has been canonized into a domestic suspense form in its own right from his own. The 2014 film adaptation of Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, expanded the novel’s snakelike reach even further. Not since Italian philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco wrote the surprise best-seller The Name of the Rose in 1980 has an entertaining crime thriller been so elegantly doubled as a reflection on the instability of truth.
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Reviews, like stories, can be unstable. What I realized after re-reading Gone Girl to mark the 10th anniversary of its release was that over the years the unmistakable power of Flynn’s blockbuster had faded for me. I had thought of the novel through the gray stuff of its lesser imitators. In truth, my sour comments on the literary imitators that have spawned Gone Girl have nothing to do with the original: a macabre, brilliant, psychologically astute cat-and-mouse journey about marriage and malevolence.
To recap, Gone Girl tells a love story gone wrong. (Or maybe it never was love.) Nick and Amy Dunne were once young magazine writers who lived a glittering life together in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. When print journalism collapsed in the new millennium, the couple lost their respective jobs. Credit card spending started to increase, so Nick pushed for a move back to his hometown: North Carthage, Mo. He pulled money out of Amy’s trust fund (another story in itself), Nick and his twin sister, Go, opened a bar, and Nick stopped shredded his professional identity by teaching a journalism course at the local college. Amy sat in her rented house and cooked. (At least that’s how Nick sees the situation.)
“Gone Girl” opens on the morning of the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary; By then, bitterness has gathered around their relationship as thick as Mississippi mud. Here’s Nick describing the origins of their annual anniversary “treasure hunt”:
“My wife loved games, mostly mind games, but also real fun games, and for our anniversary she always put on an elaborate treasure hunt where each clue led to the location of the next clue until I reached the end, and my present. That’s what her father always did for her mother on her anniversary. … But I didn’t grow up in Amy’s household, I grew up in mine, and the last present my father gave to my mother was an iron on the kitchen counter, not wrapping paper. … The problem with Amy’s treasure hunt: I never found the clues.”
A little later that day, Amy disappears. The front door is open; the scratched domestic cat wanders outside; the living room is in disarray. (Local police think this scene looks staged.) The chapters of the novel alternate between Nick’s account of his desperate search for Amy, the clues she left behind about the anniversary treasure hunt, and entries from Amy’s journal, beginning with her head over heels first encounter with the dreamy Nick. But cracks soon sprout in both narratives. Why does Nick have a disposable secret phone? Why would Amy, who was so sweet in her early journal entries, suddenly sneer at being entitled to her trust fund because her parents “plagiarized my childhood” for their hit children’s books Amazing Amy? This is just the tip of the interpretive iceberg.
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All mysteries are invitations to close reading; All great mysteries show us readers how defective our ability to read accurately is. Gone Girl bombards us with testimonials, letters, phone calls, riddles on treasure hunts, and the journal entries mentioned above, spurring us on to read smarter. (The new special edition, being released to mark the novel’s first decade, contains 10 pages of previously unpublished material – mostly journal entries that tell a bit more of Amy’s childhood story. They’re not needed, but they’ll please the most rabid fans of the novel. )
By the end of the novel, most if not all of us readers will have to face the fact that we’ve failed the sinister close-reading test that Gone Girl offers. I’ve now failed this test twice – certainly proof that “Gone Girl” is and remains a really big mystery.
Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air program, teaches literature at Georgetown University.
Gone Girl: Special Anniversary Edition
Ballantine. 442 pages. Paperback, $18.
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