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Book review of ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn: Sightseeing in Missouri

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I gotta get this off my chest; Gone Girl was published in 2012 and was promptly labeled a “summer read.” In my lifetime I have read at least a thousand books, and of all of the books that have been labeled summer books Gone Girl is the least summer reading book I have ever laid eyes on. It is, BTW, a fantastic novel, but in no way is it that light summer novel that you pack in a see through bag and thumb through while sipping a cocktail decorated with a paper umbrella. It is a heavy story which features two characters that one hopes never move next door. At times you will utter “Oh no he or she didn’t!” but not in that fun Housewife franchise way, more in the realization that there have 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook. Gone Girl is a meaty book, a smart novel, a page turner, but what it isn’t is a fun in the sun summer read! No one falls in love or even out of love…they just think they do.

Maybe people thought it was a summer read because most of the action takes place during the summer.

Almost to their fifth anniversary, Nick and Amy Dunne are a seemingly happy couple who live in the small college town of North Carthage, MO. Their rented McMansion boarders the Mississippi River, which in a way is symbolic for all of their Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher fantasies that now flow downriver along with memories of their former fancy life in Manhattan. You see, Nick is a native of North Carthage; a typical hometown boy who made good in the big city to only see his world collapse when the weight of the Internet finally doomed his career as a pop culture writer for a swiftly downsizing print magazine.

Amy has her own unique issues beginning with she is not Missouri born thus is an alien in a foreign landscape – a place where people are “folks” and tend not to be competitive in the ways a native New Yorker is used to. In this “fly over state” folks care little about your designer purse except to smile pleasantly as you brag about your bag. In a depressed economy they are the type individuals who move into the local mall (now closed) and occupy a former anchor store space. When these folks form gangs they aren’t called anything cliché like “Crips” or “Bloods” but instead go by the moniker of “The Blue Book Boys” – a name acquired after the factory producing the college exam books of a now gone era closed. “Blue Book Boys” is an amusing name, memorable, but underneath the fun it accurately labels desperate people who have been burned by the promise of an America that isn’t.

However North Carthage offers Amy one advantage if she is willing to take it; she can escape her past as the inspiration for the Amazing Amy books her parents (both child psychologists) wrote while she was growing up. Popular in the eighties and nineties the series brought Amy’s parents a lot of coin, but that was in the last century and a family can’t continue to live large if they are bringing in bunk. Ergo further explaining the exodus from the Big Apple – that, and Amy lost her job as well.

The action starts when a neighbor calls Nick at the bar he co-owns with his sister (a place purchased with the last of Amy’s Amazing Amy trust fund) telling him that the front door of his house is wide open for no apparent reason. This leads to a missing persons report, which leads to a missing person search, which quickly leads to the 24/7 news cycle and tabloid inspired journalists who think Amazing Amy is now floating down the Mighty Mississippi. Beyond being “amazing” Amy is also attractive because we all know unattractive women without interesting backstories can remain missing in the world of Headline News.

The great thing about Gone Girl is that it is multilayered, but multilayered in a way that feels very now – modern manipulation on top of modern manipulation. Nick knows there is a way a guilty husband should appear when dealing with multimedia sources but he has difficulty striking the right note. Is he guilty? I’m not telling.

I liked this book for several reasons one of which is that Gillian Flynn, Kansas City native, gets Missouri right. When she described the multi-cabin “resort” by a lake in the Ozarks I literally felt she and I had shared the same summer vacations. It is a feeling I don’t have in many novels, a sense that I have walked where the characters have walked. Therefore this book is a definite read for all Missourians. It doesn’t paint us pretty but it paints us fairly of which can’t be said of many depictions of heartland living.

I recommend Gone Girl because it is a great read although intense – so if you read it this summer, throw out the rum and pineapple juice and go straight for the hard liquor. It has a smart ending but you will feel punched in the gut. The movie version of Gone Girl is set to debut in theaters in October which means there will be a lot of copies of Gone Girl floating around in familiar places like grocery stores if you still don’t do digital download.

Happy reading!

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