by Matt J. Popham
If Patricia Highsmith were to hate-fuck a young Martin Amis and spawn a razorsharp, poison -quilled succubus, her name might be Gillian Flynn. Or, at least, that’s the feeling one gets being sucked into the sinister, venomous, and, yes, thoroughly enjoyable downward spiral that is GONE GIRL. Flynn’s third novel was a breakout bestseller and one of the “It” books of 2012, but don’t hold that against her. Because to spend too much time championing the novel’s masterfully calculated narrative mechanics and full-throttle page-turnability is to undervalue its artfulness and wit.
A dark delight, GONE GIRL launches itself from a deceptively simple suspense-thriller springboard – on the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears under suspicious circumstances – then hits the ground running, propelled by a double-barreled, and deeply dubious, he-said/she-said narration, through which Nick and Amy, by turns, examine not only the components, complexities, and possible culprits in Amy’s abduction, but also the harmony and heartbreak of their tumultuous romantic history. Saying anything more would detract from the thrill-ride of serpentine, psychological twists and riveting, Jim Thompson-esque turns, but for all of GONE GIRL’s visceral genre trappings, the hollow at the center of its Mystery-of-the-Missing-Wife storyline echoes with a deeper, broader resonance: This is a book about vacancy. About the empty spaces in our lives, and the bitter, brittle facades we build to mask them. Whether it’s the uninhabited houses that line the streets of the Dunne’s Midwestern, middle-class subdivision, or the affected outward image each character projects to try and obscure their deepest, darkest flaws, whether it’s the simplified, sensationalistic media coverage of Amy’s byzantine abduction, or the void at the heart of the Dunnes’ collapsing marriage, Flynn populates her novel with empty shells, hollow husks, and desolate souls, painting a merciless portrait of a sick society crumbling under its obsession with the superficial. Though she cleverly wraps her caustic criticisms in an irresistible confection of addictive intrigue, whiplash reversals, breakneck pacing, playful prose, and compelling characters, beneath the intoxicating entertainment, lurks a piercing, probing, disturbing dissection of identity, marriage, and contemporary culture that permeates your system like a poison. A “cookie full of arsenic,” GONE GIRL, once devoured, will leave you feeling both slightly sick and supremely satisfied.