News that Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s runaway summer hit, will be made into a film starring Reese Witherspoon, will no doubt increase sales for this psychological thriller. There’s never a guarantee that what reads well on the page will play well on the screen. Witherspoon herself discovered that creative gap when she starred in Water for Elephants, a beloved novel by Sara Gruen that failed miserably at the box office. Gone Girl will be particularly challenging to adapt since much of the story takes place within the pages of a diary. Turning those intimate thoughts into action without losing any momentum will take a deft hand. Flynn herself will write the screenplay, certainly an advantage.
Until we have the film, we can certainly enjoy the book. Gone Girl is a page turner with many twists and turns. While the plot is all important, Flynn has also produced an intriguing character study. People surprise us and Flynn’s characters are never predictable.
Amy Elliott writes quizzes for magazines, the ones where the reader answers questions and then learns whether Mr. Right is indeed Mr. Right or whether the job being contemplated is the right fit. Amy is famous but not for her quizzes. Her parents have written a series of children’s books starring “Amazing Amy,” their daughter. Widely popular, the books made her parents rich, but set Amy up for a lifetime of disappointment, trying to live up to her fictional self. Her parents seem to prefer the Amy they created rather than the live version. Amy describes herself as a writer, but knows her success can never equal Amazing Amy’s.
My parents have always worried that I’d take Amy too personally—they always tell me not to read too much into her. And yet I can’t fail to notice that whenever I screw something up, Amy does it right: When I finally quit violin at age twelve, Amy was revealed as a prodigy in the next book.
Nick Dunne is a writer, too, working at a technology magazine. Amy’s first diary entry gives the details of their first meeting in a Manhattan bar. He’s gorgeous and is attracted to her also. Lamenting the lack of food at the party, Nick suggests they make a meal of mustard and olives. “Just one olive, though.” For Amy, the line has the feel of an inside joke. “A year from now, we will be walking along the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset and one of us will whisper, `Just one olive, though,’ and we’ll start to laugh.”
Their romance blossoms. “I am fat with love! Husky with ardor! Morbidly obese with devotion! A happy, busy bumblebee of marital enthusiasm….I have become a strange thing. I have become a wife.” Amy’s parents buy them a house in Manhattan. Everything seems upbeat, idyllic. Then on their third wedding anniversary, things begin to fall apart. Nick skips out on celebrating with his wife, choosing to console several of the magazine’s writers who have been fired. With each anniversary, Amy constructs an elaborate treasure hunt centered on special moments she has shared with Nick. She is hurt that the special evening she planned was ruined.
Soon, Nick is out of a job, too. Amy’s parents pay a visit and tell her the last Amazing Amy book bombed and they are out of money. The house they bought for Amy and Nick will need to be sold. With no options left in Manhattan, the couple moves back to Nick’s childhood home in Missouri. Amy uses the last of her trust fund to buy Nick and his twin sister, Go, a bar. Yet Amy and Nick are unhappy. Amy’s diary entries become increasingly dark. We fear the worst.
Nick comes home one day to find Amy missing. And, as typically happens, Nick, the husband is the main suspect. Amy’s parents publicly declare their support for Nick, but not for long. Reading Nick’s account of events, we begin to suspect him, too. Being questioned by the police, praising his wife and extolling his love for her, he thinks:
This was my eleventh lie. The Amy of today was abrasive enough to want to hurt, sometimes. I speak specifically of the Amy of today, who was only remotely like the woman I fell in love with.
Flynn toys with our emotions. One minute we are convinced that Nick is the killer, the next, that he is a hero. Amy at one point is the victim, then purely evil. Not until the last page is turned, will all the answers be revealed. It truly is a roller coast ride, one worthy of a thrilling adaptation on the screen. We hope that happens.