Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Gone Girl”

Dear Frank,

gone girl coverThere’s nothing like a good thrilling yarn, is there? So rarely, it seems, do I have time to curl up on the couch with a book that just grabs me by the neck and demands my attention — even if I know that I’m never going to read the book again, even if I don’t think the book is all that good, I still find that getting sucked into a story is one of modern life’s most potent pleasures.

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the hot book everyone was talking about a few months ago, was like that for me. I’m not genuinely sure I LOVED it (except for a few bits, which we’ll get to) but it was compelling as fuck, using its first-person POV narrative to carefully dole out secrets and surprises to the audience. And as news continues regarding the upcoming film adaptation, I find myself getting more and more excited to see it on the big screen.

What is it about the mysteries of Gone Girl that makes it work so well? I’ll tell you, Frank, but with this caveat — it really is a great read, especially if you like taudry scandals and gender roles commentary. If you (or anyone reading this) ain’t in the mood, I totally don’t blame you. If only because that validates the entire existence of this blog!

So, Gone Girl starts… on the morning of Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne’s 5th wedding anniversary. The two of them are living in Nick’s quasi-destitute Missouri hometown, after having met in New York but then later laid off from their cushy magazine jobs (Frank, this book is also about THE ECONOMY and THE DEATH OF PRINT MEDIA!). They might seem happy enough, but then Amy goes mysteriously missing an hour after making her husband breakfast, their home showing signs of a struggle and covered in her blood.

(Because these roles are already cast and you might as well start thinking about the characters this way, I will tell you that Nick is Ben “Batman” Affleck, in the movie, and Amy is the really pretty Bond girl from Die Another Day and also a half-decent Jane Bennet in that Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice adaptation and, in my humble opinion, one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen on the screen.)

I'm just saying, objectively, that SHE PURTY. Like, Cillian Murphy pretty!

I’m just saying, objectively, that SHE PURTY. Like, Cillian Murphy pretty!

News of Amy’s disappearance travels fast, as she’s an attractive blonde person and cable news loves its tragic blonde ladies, and also her parents wrote a series of children’s books chronicling the adventures of “Amazing Amy,” which were once quite popular and famous. So there’s a ton of scrutiny on the case — and soon, a ton of scrutiny on Nick.

Because Nick, it’s slowly revealed, has no shortage of sins: He borrowed money that he can’t repay from Amy, to open a bar. His alibi is bullshit. He’s been sleeping with a young lady named Andie (played in the movie by one of the hoes who broke feminism in that Robin Thicke video), one of his students at the local community college. And a ton of credit cards in his name have been charged to the max and a life insurance policy on Amy has been purchased, which would pay out huge to him. The last two are the only things he denies doing.

Plus Amy, wherever she might be, has left behind a scavenger hunt (an anniversary tradition of hers) which accuses him of all this and so much more trauma. In short, things are NOT LOOKING GOOD for Nick. Like, “we think you murdered your wife” not good.

Could be worse! (Sorry, obligatory "Gigli" joke is obligatory.)

Could be worse! (Sorry, obligatory “Gigli” joke is obligatory.)

The cops are waiting for the moment to arrest him, the media has already convicted him, and he gets an expensive lawyer whose speciality is men who have murdered their wives. (Maybe not the best choice of lawyer for a guy trying to prove he DIDN’T murder his wife, but that is far from the least stupid decision made in this book.)

Life is not good for Nick! But at least he’s figured out that Amy isn’t dead — she’s framing him for her murder, to punish him for his affair and also not loving her the way she felt she deserved to be loved. See, Amy’s a bit… How do you say… Crazypants?

I mean, the girl’s very smart, but was raised in the shadow of her parents’ children’s books (which documented a perfect version of their daughter — a tough thing to live up to). Not to mention the fact that being a hyperintelligent modern woman can be a bit of a drain on the psyche, as well as the fact that sometimes, bitch be a bit crazy.

This gets to some of my favorite parts of the book — the Amy sections. See, until halfway through the book, all of the plot’s forward momentum comes in chapters featuring Nick; in flashbacks “from Amy’s diary,” we get the backstory on how she and Nick initially met and courted in New York.

These chapters read, initially, like trashy chick-lit — it’s all happiness and light and “so glad to be in love” until their layoffs and the change of location leave them estranged. They depict a relationship it’s not hard to imagine devolving into violence…

…which is exactly what Amy had in mind! At the midpoint, Amy’s side of the split narrative shifts from Amy’s diary, which she admits to having forged, to Amy in real time during her disappearance. And that’s when we get a full picture of her intensely focused vengeance quest; the extent to which she’s gone to ruin Nick’s life entirely. (I mean, she’s pretty specific about this — death-by-lethal-injection specific.)

Over several months, Amy not only forged a diary, but crafted a plan to escape Missouri unnoticed, fabricated the credit card debt and life insurance policy, and gathered the evidence she’d need to fake a pregnancy (yeah, she’s allegedly pregnant when she disappears — another motivation for Nick to kill her). Amy, revealed for real to the reader, is STONE COLD.

But (and this is one of the book’s best tricks), as a lady reader it’s hard not to emphasize with her just a little. It really comes down to one of the book’s most quoted bits, AKA the “Cool Girl” monologue:

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Frank, I hate to speak for my entire gender (most of the time) but I feel like there are few of us ladies around who can’t emphasize with that peer pressure, just a little bit. There’s always some version of it, some pressure to conform to the things that a guy wants in a girl because you find value in being wanted by a guy.

It runs completely counterintuitive to the classic dating advice: “Always be yourself,” but while being the Cool Girl might be hard work, it seems at times much more effective.

Amy, after being with Nick for a few years, figures she can stop being the Cool Girl, but then feels betrayed by the drop-off in Nick’s passion and his subsequent affair. (The fact that Amy is this methodical about her public persona, by the way, is what separates her from the average female dealing with societal pressures and, y’know, someone who is crazypants enough to create a 33-point checklist for framing her husband for murder.)

While Nick deals with the whole “being tried by the media as a wife-killer and trying to prove his innocence thing,” we get to find out what she’s up to during her “disappearance” — which boils down to hiding out at a trashy lakefront rental complex that’s seen its fair share of runaways, floating in the pool, and watching Nick get crucified by talk show hosts.

It seems like a pretty fun vay-cay, to be honest — until, that is, the cash she’d hoarded to sustain her new way of life gets ripped off by two other occupants of the rental complex. This is, Frank, THE STUPIDEST PART OF THE BOOK, if you were wondering, because the fun of Amy up until that point was her cleverness — but the chapter or two leading up to said theft is just painful because you are like, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, AMY, GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER AND FIGURE OUT THAT THEY’RE ONTO YOU AND RUN.

Completely broke and not able to emerge without totally destroying her Nick plans, Amy is forced to fall back on her last resort — a guy she dated when she was much younger named Desi, who is a very anal-retentive fancy rich gentleman with a lot of mommy issues and a longtime obsession with Amy. Great combo!

Desi is played by Neil Patrick Harris in the movie, which is honestly maybe the weirdest possible casting that director David Fincher could have come up with, but hey, Fincher's a great director, NPH is a decent actor, and I am definitely INTRIGUED by how this might go.

Desi is played by Neil Patrick Harris in the movie, which is honestly maybe the weirdest possible casting that director David Fincher could have come up with, but hey, Fincher’s a great director, NPH is an experienced actor, and I am definitely INTRIGUED by how this might go.

Desi takes Amy’s request for help as “let me kidnap you away to my luxurious lakeside mansion prison,” where he is constantly trying to fuck her and she is constalntly trying to plot her next move, given her complete lack of resources. Ultimate solution? Seduce him, sedate him, and stab him to death. (I am telling you that Amy is above average ruthless when it comes to her man-plans.)

And then she calls the cops and comes crying home to Nick, which technically means he’s off the hook for murdering her. The two maintain the appearance of being a happily reunited couple, largely to get the cops off their backs, but he’s a wee bit upset about that whole trying-to-put-you-on-death-row thing, so their relationship… It struggles, to say the least.

Finally, on a basis of emotional and real blackmail, Amy and Nick come to a bit of an understanding. They’ve written dueling memoirs, their individual takes on the events surrounding Amy’s disappearance. (Amy’s is titled Amazing!; Nick’s is titled Psycho Bitch. Not making that up.) But Amy’s got the trump card — specifically, a baby conceived with Nick’s sperm, collected during a pre-disappearance attempt at fertility treatments.

And so Nick gives up, letting Amy win, remaining with her as her “loving” husband — but full of pity for her. For she has to be the person she is.

That’s how the book ends, Frank! I have no idea if that’s the ending they’ll keep for the movie! It’s a bit abrupt, but while Amy gets away with it all, and remains, y’know, batshit, the ambiguity of her and Nick’s fate seems apt.

Because one nice thing the book does is emphasize that these people? THEY ARE TERRIBLE PEOPLE. Both of them. They are both smart and attractive and accustomed to a system where those qualities matter way the fuck more than being nice or principled or, y’know, a decent human being.

So, ultimately, Gone Girl is kind of a love story — one with some ISSUES, admittedly, but the two people involved might just deserve each other, and the world they live in.

It’s funny how a simple mystery like “what happened to the girl?” can end up being a catalyst for something much more complex. Okay, I guess that’s NOT all that shocking when you consider, y’know, every television show about dead girls ever. But the girl who is gone, and what she leaves behind. The moment when the Cool Girl’s coolness is stripped away. Historical epics have been built on less.

Love,
Liz

About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on October 15, 2013, in All the Spoilers, Books, Spoiler Alert! and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. This rocks Liz. I read this book this summer, and hope to never read it again, and think the movie will be spectacular. They are TERRIBLE TERRIBLE people!:) I’ve rarely admired the sheer balsiness and talent of Gillian Flynn to write a book this clever about these terrible people who totally deserve each other, and there’s a great Slate.com bookgroup podcast about this book where they speculate on what a sequel would contain.

  2. At what point in literary history did it become the thing/popular to write about terrible people? Not enjoyable. 😉 Thanks for saving my time! 🙂

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