Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a 2012 novel that’s both a mystery and a thriller. The entire novel is written in opposing points of view from Amy the wife and Nick the husband. The problem is that neither is a likable character and the only thing keeping the story going is wondering if he really killed her, or not.
4 out of 10 stars. The film is much better than the novel I’m disappointed to say. The author used to be a writer for a magazine. Column writing is very different than writing full length novels. You need at least one likable character to keep the reader reading. This one had none which make it hard to finish.
Amy Elliott is the daughter of two famous writers who wrote the Amazing Amy series of kids’ books. They are a very narcissistic pair of parents who used Amy as propaganda for their books her entire life. Now she’s famous for those books and she’s a writer, but no one will publish her real work, so she writes personality quizzes for a magazine. Her parents are the famous writers and that really irritates her. She desperately desires to be famous like her parents among their NYC elite.
Into Amy’s life comes Nick Dunn, a writer from Missouri. After two years of dating, in which he is fascinated by her head for some dumb reason, they get married, but eventually the recession hits the writing business hard and both are out of work. Amy has a trust fund from her parents to the tune of $172,000 which in New York City goes really fast.
When Nick’s mother gets cancer, they sell their brownstone, taking a huge loss, and move to Missouri. That’s where everything begins to fall apart. Amy uses the last of her trust fund to buy a bar for Nick that he runs with his twin sister Margo. Nick’s mother dies, but his father becomes unable to care for himself, so Nick puts him in a home. Here’s where we see the narcissistic side of Nick and it ain’t pretty. He doesn’t appreciate that his wife has used all of her trust fund to buy this bar or that she’s picked up and left everything she knows to go to the middle of nowhere and care for his family. The bar is losing money and Nick is having an affair with one of his students at the community college where he teaches creative writing. He’s really a monster. Honestly, if I had a husband like this, I’d frame him for murder too.
Every year on their anniversary, Amy leaves a series of notes for Nick, clues to find his anniversary gift which is usually a sexual surprise of some kind. He doesn’t really care this year because he has a 20 year old on the side, but Amy is excited the week before and tells him to go to the family cabin in the woods and think hard about their marriage. He does it to humor her. He’s really apathetic about their marriage.
During that week in the woods, Nick decides to divorce Amy. But Amy has other plans. She’s been plotting to frame Nick for her murder and she’s set him up really well.
That’s actually where the story begins, with Nick coming home from the woods and realizing that something has happened to his wife. The novel is told in flashbacks.
The first thing Nick sees is turned over furniture and things on the floor. So he calls the police and laughingly says it looks bad. What he doesn’t see is the blood on the woodwork or the blood on the floor that was ineffectually cleaned up but left a ton of evidence behind. Amy also left an envelope marked “clue” which the cops find and that clue leads them to his office at the community college where his lover’s panties are displayed for the cops to find and take. On his desk is the second clue which points to his father’s house, but he pretends he doesn’t know the answer. He goes to his father’s house and finds the third clue, but the alarm goes off and the cops come. He never finds whatever is hidden is his father’s house (near the end of the novel they find a bloody club they presume he used to kill Amy). The police find a $127,000 credit card debt and a list of purchases for things Nick never bought. And the third clue, which he never showed the cops, leads to his sister Margo’s shed, where Amy stashed all those items, making it appear he was celebrating her life insurance before he actually collected it. But they don’t discover this until much later in the novel.
So that’s it for the clues, but there’s more. Amy left a detailed fake diary for the cops to find and in it she describes an idyllic Amy who marries the abusive Nick who begins beating her until she fears for her life. The last entry says, “This man may kill me.” As the police begin searching for her body, Nick begins searching for more clues of what has happened to his wife, still unsuspecting that she’s framed him for her murder. The neighbors claim his wife was pregnant (she wasn’t) and Amy’s parents turn on him. His mistress turns on him too and everyone talks about him like he’s actually violent when he’s not. As the case gets national coverage, Nick becomes the most hated man in America. He finally hires a lawyer. It costs him $100,000 which he gets from Margo. Which begs the question, if he and Margo wanted to buy a bar together why didn’t they use Margo’s money instead of Amy’s?
In addition to the national media accusing Nick of killing his pregnant wife, they’re accusing him of twincest, sleeping with his sister Margo because they’re so close. The groupies crawl out of the woodwork and flock to Nick to take pictures with him, grab things from him, and Amy’s parents are riding the public sentiment to get a renewed interest in their Amazing Amy series. For a moment you can almost see why Amy faked her death. Everyone in her life is an absolute monster, including her parents.
Here’s where we see what Amy actually did and she was pretty crafty. She faked the diary, drew her own blood in small quantities over a long period of time and then dumped it in the kitchen which she sloppily cleaned up so it would show up in luminol tests. She got cash from the credit card, bought a cheap car, and planned on killing herself. But she wanted everyone to hate Nick and convict him, so she went a step further. She found the dumbest neighbors, began jogging, and told them she was pregnant so they could be fake friends. She drained the water from the toilet, had these fake friends over, plied them with lemonade, and scooped their pee from the toilet which she took to the doctor to fake her pregnancy. She was one very determined woman which almost makes her likable.
She takes the cheap car and some cheap clothes and holes up in a cheap hotel waiting to see Nick get arrested and convicted. This is the only reason she hasn’t killed herself yet, but fate intervenes and she is robbed by thugs at the hotel and they take all of her cash. Now she has no money.
There are two men from Amy’s past who come into play. The first is Desi Collings, a college classmate who stalked Amy. He’s extremely wealthy so Amy runs to him for help. He insists that she buy new clothes, jog off the extra fat she’s acquired, and get a haircut so she looks like the real Amy. Then they’ll talk. Meanwhile he keeps her captive in his cabin. Desi really is a stalker. And a creepy one at that. Like Nick, Desi expects Amy to be perfectly beautiful, a size 2, and intelligent, like a trophy to keep around. Desi should watch out because this is what made Amy hate Nick.
Meanwhile, Nick has heard from Amy’s parents and the police about another stalker of Amy’s that he didn’t know about, Tommy O’Hara. Nick goes to see Tommy and finds out Amy framed him for rape. They were dating and she bought him some ties. He thought oh well, whatever and kept them. Then she invited him over and wanted rough sex. Afterward she wrapped the ties to her bedposts and her ankles, roughed herself up, and accused him of rape. He pled down but had to register as a sex offender, which completely ruined his life. But the way he describes how methodical Amy was in planning the entire thing is eerily familiar to Nick. So now he realizes she faked her death and she’s still alive. It’s kind of a shame because I was just starting to like Amy.
Nick’s attorney arranges for him to go on TV with a national talk show host. He tells what a horrible husband he was and how much he loves his wife. He pleads for Amy to come home and it works. She’s at Desi’s cabin watching TV and forgives him. There’s just one problem. Desi.
So Amy gets her haircut, jogs off the extra weight, buys designer clothes (with Desi’s credit card), and gets all prettied up for Desi. The next morning after he leaves for work, she pours wine on her crotch, ties a belt to her ankle (like she’s been tied up), and crawls to the front door fake crying. This is all caught on the cameras of Desi’s cabin. Now she’s faked her own kidnapping by Desi. He comes home that night, she takes him straight to bed, has rough sex with him, and in the throes of an orgasm stabs him in the throat. He bleeds all over her and she finishes having sex with him, like a real psychopath.
The cops arrest Nick, but he’s released on bail. He just arrives home when a bloodied Amy drives up onto the lawn, gets out of the car in front of the media, and faints in Nick’s arms. She’s quite the drama queen, and she learned well from her parents.
Amy is questioned by the police, but only superficially. She’s made them look stupid and they just want to mop up the mess they’ve made. She goes home to Nick and he locks himself with the cat in a room because he realizes she’s a true psychopath.
Weeks go by as Nick tries to get the police to arrest Amy for faking her death and almost getting him killed (via the death penalty), but no one will do anything. Even his lawyer laughs it off. Amy announces she’s pregnant. She writes a book about her kidnapping which immediately becomes a bestseller and she becomes the famous writer she always wanted to be, while Nick hangs out in the background, still hated by everyone.
Margo tries to talk Nick into leaving Amy, but Amy now has all the money. If he left her no one would hire him and he’d be poor. So he stays.
Part of the draw of this film is that Amy is doing what every middle-aged discarded wife wants to do–teach her cheating husband a lesson. She let him drag her to Missouri, spend all of her money, and make her a smaller person (literally because she starved herself into a size 2 to make him happy) and then he ignored her and had sex with his 20 year old students. Amy went to surprise him at work (at the bar) and caught him with one of these 20 year olds and he was doing the same thing to her he did on his first date with Amy which totally crushed his wife.
4 out of 10 stars. This is a chilling tale but it could’ve been told so much better. Watch the film instead although I really hate saying that.