The Story: [From GoodReads]:
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
No offense to anyone who liked this novel (as I seem to be in the minority) but this was a chore to read, not so much for the writing (which was mediocre and dry though passable) but the characters. Plot-wise, this is marketed as a “terrifying” and gripping thriller. While I’ll give it props for trying to convey a mystery plot that’s told from two different perspectives, that’s where my compliments end. I’m not sure what was supposed to be so “terrifying” about this novel other than it was terrifyingly dark, terrifyingly dull, and the characters were some of the most terrible literary figures I’ve ever seen.
Because my biggest issue with this novel comes down to the lead characters, I’m going to spend the largest part of this review exploring them. For starters, I get that Nick and Amy aren’t supposed to be likable or even good people and they immediately struck me as a whinny, hipster, Millennial couple pushing their mid-30s. Amy’s diary entries read like they were written by a teenager (and, quite frankly, I think her mental state isn’t developed much beyond that age) and Nick is just a clueless, thankless bum. Normally, if a character (especially a lead) starts out on the wrong foot, he ends up redeeming himself by learning to overcome his negative traits. Ebeneezer Scrooge, for example, in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, starts off as a gentlemanly jerk but doesn’t stay that way as he has a change of heart. But Gone Girl is no Dickensian masterpiece and Nick and Amy are about the furthest thing from a Scrooge-esque redemption arc than Harry Potter‘s greasy-haired Potions master, Severus Snape, is from a shampoo factory.
Again, I don’t take issue with the fact the leads here are terrible people, almost filling the role of villains in a way because they don’t possess enough positive traits to even qualify as antiheroes. Villains can make for highly intriguing characters, but in order to achieve this they have to possess something that sets them apart regarding their characterization. Myself, if a villain or less-than-heroic character can be witty, charming, intelligent, or funny, that contributes to the character being a more likable person even if he or she isn’t cast in an intentionally likable role.
By way of example, Negan from The Walking Dead comics and television series is a great villain. Yes, he can be despicable. Yes, he’s an unrepentant jerk – and that’s putting it nicely. But Negan possesses a certain charisma that turns him into the type of leader who people will follow (or else). He can make me laugh by being intentionally funny thanks to his wit and an excessively foul mouth. He possesses a fragment of a heart as he’s not always bloodthirsty and will at least listen to (but probably won’t agree with) a well-reasoned argument. He even plays ping pong, of all things! Yet Negan is feared for a reason and takes no qualms in beating someone to death with his barbwire-covered baseball bat named Lucille.
Why do I bring up his character in this review? Because Negan is a great model of how to construct a likable horrible person. He’s not 100% evil as he possesses traits and quirks that make him engaging, and he has reasons for why he does what he does though said reasons only seem logical to him. In contrast, Nick and Amy are downright disgusting, have absolutely nothing about them to give you any shred of sympathy or spark your interest, and their logic flat out makes no sense chiefly because there is no basis for some of the actions they take. For instance, Negan keeps a harem of women who are wives or girlfriends of some of the men in his command. His reason? He’s always wanted to sleep with a bunch of women, so why be tied down to just one? Plus any woman who willingly becomes one of his wives gains material favors, usually extra supplies or special privileges, for her now-wifeless husband. In other words, to the question of X, Negan offers a plausible Y, though the reader (and other characters) probably won’t agree with his line of reasoning.
In contrast, Nick and Amy each have an affair, one is with someone ten years younger and the other with an old flame. This, of course, brings up the question of why they do this, but their answers are weak at best. Because their marriage was rocky. Because they wanted to. Because they felt like it. I’m sorry but those aren’t good reasons as there isn’t any “logic” to them other than Nick likes hooking up with younger women (he’s only in his 30s, by the way) and Amy is crazy and wants to do whatever she wants to do. But neither character makes a good justification for his or her actions – as immoral as said actions already are – which also puts them in a less than favorable light. They behave like they do “just because,” but “just because” isn’t a good enough reason.
Nick and Amy are also insufferable, which is inexcusable for lead characters if you ask me. Again, I understand that they’re unreliable narrators and the intent is to not get you to root for them. But the least they could have been was tolerable. Again, to cite Negan as an example, we’re not suppose to cheer him on but at least his character has interesting angles that keep you invested and interested. But rather than be charismatic, intriguing, or even darkly comical, Nick and Amy are selfish jerks with no redeeming value whatsoever. Similarly, Nick and Amy commit terrible deeds yet never suffer the consequences. Nick might feel guilty, but he never seems to come to this conclusion by himself as it’s usually someone else who has to wise him up to the fact that maybe some of his actions won’t be seen in a good light.
For example, Nick casually (and rather callously) has an affair “just because” while Amy is presumed to be missing. Yet it’s not Nick who stops to wonder if maybe this isn’t such a good idea: it’s his lawyer, his sister, etc. who remind him that maybe it’s not such a good idea to be seen carousing with another woman while your wife is AWOL and you are suspected of murdering her. As for Amy, she commits atrocity after atrocity without consequence or guilt. Though it’s clear she suffers from some sort of mental illness that might erase any sense of a guilty conscious, it still doesn’t dismiss the laws of cause and effect. The fact neither Nick nor Amy learn anything from their sins and devious deeds doesn’t paint either character in a favorable light.
If you ask me, both Nick and Amy were more than a few fries shy of a complete Happy Meal. Case in point: Nick muses, “Amy was toxic, yet I couldn’t imagine a world without her entirely.” Um, what about the word “toxic” means “normal relationship”? But even more so, it seems like Nick is a glutton for emotional punishment for no reason other than “just because.” (You know, for him to be a “golden boy” and a professor, he’s a bit of a dunderhead.) In the same way, Amy is cold-hearted and deceptive “just because.” Nick and Amy both claim they “love” each other, but their sense of love is twisted beyond all recognition.
I sense this pairing comes on the heels of the abusive-relationships-are-okay story type thanks to the inexplicable popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray. This trend in literature is disturbing; and while readers ultimately make up their own minds about what’s good to mentally digest and what’s not, it’s still troublesome to see characters willingly enter into and persist in physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually harmful relationships. Likewise, it’s hard to care about or be interested in characters who are so utterly cold towards the world and each other. I had to mentally grit my teeth at this book until my patience finally wore out and I skimmed pages to the end, which didn’t redeem this book.
I’m honestly baffled as to why this is so popular. Gone Girl is cold, stark realism with equally cold characters and doesn’t offer any sense of a redeeming message, not even a slim one. In fact, I’m not sure what the message of this novel was supposed to be. Not every book has to possess an obvious moral and some of the best stories are ones with their moral beneath the surface so it doesn’t come across as preachy. But a story needs to be about at least something.
Emotionally, what is supposed to be the reader’s response to Gone Girl? Disgust? Pity? Anger? Moral superiority because thank goodness we’re no where close to being as rotten as these folks?
I’m not sure. So I’ll just close with how it made me feel.
I hate to say that I hated a book because that’s a harsh claim and I’m willing to give most books a chance. But Gone Girl was a dark, demented mess. The characters are reprehensible, the writing tries too hard to be literary, and the mystery element – which could have worked – has no rhyme or reason for why characters do what they do. Furthermore, there are no heroes here, not even antiheroes, and no underlying sense of hope, forgiveness, redemption, or just plain ol’ common sense. Characters commit horrible acts – from adultery, to murder, to all manners of deception – and never face the consequences of their actions. Combine that with language and sex scenes befitting a trashy grocery store checkout line paperback and you’ve got one book that I simply could not get invested in on any level.
Language – Contains strong, R-rated language all throughout, bordering on being pervasive at times.
Violence – The book’s focus is on the aftermath of a violent crime and we see evidence of something bloody that’s occurred albeit it avoids being gory. Collectively, this novel contains unveiled references to murder, kidnapping, self-harm, and rape. Granted, some of these events are not what they appear to be in some characters’ recollection of events (such as one character stages her own rape by making it appear she was assaulted when she really wasn’t). These events cast the story in a dark and depressing tone. Thus, readers prone to being emotionally effected by the books they read might want to steer clear of this one as there is nothing uplifting or ultimately redeeming about it in the end.
Sexual Content – Characters unabashedly have sex, both a married couples and adulterous couplings. While such scenes are not graphic, not much is left up the the imagination as sex-related terminology and references to anatomy are employed. Elsewhere, it’s revealed that Nick has an affair with a student ten years his junior and continues to see her even while Amy remains missing; so while there are no legal issues regarding the propriety of this relationship (as the student is a legal age), it’s worth noting as it’s grossly inappropriate on many levels. Lastly, another character purposely injures herself with a bottle to make it look like she was raped even though she was never assaulted at all. This scene, above all of the other sex-related moments in this novel, is the most disturbing of all.
Overall, Gone Girl is a book I wish to forget. In the end, I sense this requires a particular readership, of whom I wasn’t among. Fans of unreliable narrators and suspense novels with plots related by a dual POV might enjoy this. But the cold, humorless, heartless, occasionally trashy, stark realism won’t resonate with all readers.