At first, Gillian Flynn’s third novel seems to apply cable-news-level scrutiny to its protagonist, a man whose wife has gone missing, for the sheer joy of watching him squirm. But as the whereabouts of Amy Dunne, New Yorker turned Missouri housewife, become a national obsession in Gone Girl, the roots of her disappearance submerge a once-happy relationship into a chamber of pettiness and grudge-holding so dark that the media scrutiny is the least of their problems.
From his first press conference, Nick Dunne is tagged as the suspicious husband who knows more than he’s letting on, particularly as revelations about his failing business and 23-year-old girlfriend come to light. Knowing his wife was vaguely unhappy with their move, which was prompted by job loss and his mother’s death, makes Nick nostalgic for their early years together, but the innocence he professes of his wife’s plans and habits wears thin to the point where even his expensive celebrity lawyer refuses to buy his side of the story. In alternating chapters, Amy’s diary offers her account of their lives together before her disappearance; juxtaposed with Nick’s perceived burden and his exposed string of white lies, the thumbprints of guilt are all over them.
Or are they? Asked over and over again to account for the night before Amy’s disappearance, when they fought loud enough that the cops were called, Nick evades the question, suggesting a Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?-style knock-down drag-out whose cause may give him either a motive or a pardon. Rather than settling on the mystery of that drunken bout, Flynn digs into the Dunnes’ issues to an almost unbearable depth until the authentic interplay of their relationship is revealed. Yet the glittering gem of what Nick and Amy wanted for their marriage still holds enough of its charm that scenes of the Dunnes in happier times ring true without impeding the depth-charge explosion of Amy’s disappearance.
A relentless page-turner, Gone Girl revels in the lack of happy outcomes for its ill-fated couple, whose terrifying normalcy is slowly peeled away, with financial woes and family arguments coming to light. The deception that causes the turn in Nick’s head, from the fear that his wife is dead to the suspicion that she isn’t even in danger, deranges him; with gleeful nastiness, Flynn rattles off all the kitchen-sink arguments he’s now unwilling to yield to her. When it becomes clear that neither of the Dunnes are particularly committed to telling the truth, Flynn plays them off each other to build a suspense that sucks everything from their pasts into its void.