Success of book ‘Gone Girl’ is well-deserved

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is a natural sequel to Chelsea Cain’s Heartsick, November’s “Murder Ink” review. They’re both about obsessive, matriarchal relationships, with men hanging by peculiar psycho-sexual strings wrapped around the fingers of manipulative shrews.

Heartsick is the more salacious of the two books: We climb into the mind of one of fiction’s most criminally deviant and sexually desirable female minds – readers will never forget Gretchen Lowell, she’s just too horribly made real. With Flynn’s Gone Girl, we will never remember Amy Dunne, but her villainy will be remembered as a glimpse of a brilliantly insane harridan.

The characters in Flynn’s new book are merely pawns to the story. We follow the circumstances of New York 30-somethings Amy Elliott Dunne and her husband of six years, Nick Dunne. Nick loses his job as a journalist; Amy loses her hobby job at about the same time. They move back to Carthage, Mo., as a consequence of being unemployed at the same time Nick’s twin sister needs help caring for their rapidly declining parents.

Amy is the beautiful daughter of two psychologists who gained fame and riches from a long series of best-selling children’s books under the rubric of “Amazing Amy.” Amy is rich; Nick’s sluggish. Amy is perfect, while Nick just feels lucky to know such giftedness. Amy is bright and manipulative; Nick is a regular guy who forgets anniversaries, doesn’t bring home flowers and stinks at being Ken to Barbie, all of which are meticulously noticed by awesome Amy.

Amy doesn’t want to move to unglamorous nowhere, but her script allows for the magnanimous move; it’s what any amazing woman would do for her husband under such circumstances. It doesn’t go too well in the mostly empty suburban subdivision of McMansions fronting the dirty Mississippi River: Nick has no work, Amy has no friends among the mundane, mother is dying, father continues to break out of the Alzheimer’s ward – and Amy goes missing one day.

The scene: front door agape, furniture overturned, blood on the kitchen floor. Nick’s fragmented alibi would include his unwitnessed leering through porn magazines in the garage of one of the empty subdivision homes in addition to an earlier two-hour tryst with a college coed – neither advisable excuses, so he says he was at the beach, alone.

Did Nick kill Amy? Clue after clue says so, the press is devouring the case, and Flynn hasn’t given us enough of the Nick character to know if he’s capable of murder.

Flynn alternates first person narratives from Nick’s growing dilemma to Amy’s daily diary chronicling absurd but eerily verifiable events in their marriage. Flynn’s writing is delicate – a woman’s voice – and Amy and Nick are always people we don’t really know, vaguely sketched so we cannot ever be sure of them or form an opinion. It’s stylistically fascinating and flawlessly tatted right to the final page.

It’s no wonder Gone Girl has been on The New York Times’ best-seller list for 28 weeks running.

Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author. Reach him at JeffMannix.com.