For three days I sat with my right hand permanently glued to my Kindle, watching the screen flash with each crazy page I read. This is Gone Girl, and it was a lot more than I’d expected.
I read the book because of the hype. I love being a part of things when they’re happening and I wanted to see the movie when it was released so I took the time—Halloween time—to read this book and man, was I in for a ride. If you don’t know already, here’s the premise: Nick Dunne is a Missouri boy with a New York wife, Amy. They have to move back to Nick’s hometown after they both lose their jobs. After two years back home, Nick comes home to find Amy gone and a crime scene in his living room. He is the prime suspect. Because the narrative switches between Amy and Nick, readers learn about their five-year marriage from two differing perspectives. With such polar-opposite stories and no other suspects for murder, who is ultimately telling the truth?
So yeah, it’s a helluva ride, and definitely a whodunit with a huge psychological—and psychotic—element, but the thing that struck me most about this novel was its portrayal of how men and women perceive and treat each other in society. Without giving anything away, a truly despicable character says some pretty astute things about dating and how women are liable to tailor their personalities to suit men’s tastes:
“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…I waited patiently—years—for the pendulum to swing the other way, for men to start reading Jane Austen, learn how to knit, pretend to love cosmos, organize scrapbook parties, and make out with each other while we leer. And then we’d say, Yeah, he’s a Cool Guy.”
Of course, the “Cool Girl” phenomenon isn’t new. Every five years or so a new feminine “ideal” comes along to replace the one before it, but placing the argument against the “Cool Girl” in the mouth of a truly abhorrent character is an interesting move. It challenges you to align yourself philosophically with a murderer. It tests your sympathy. And it also forces you into the perspective of the undisputed villain of the story. What she says is undoubtedly truth, even though you can be disgusted by everything else she says and does. You should hate her, and rightfully so, but she’s (disturbingly) kind of wise.
Meanwhile, the “good guy” is innocent in the eyes of the law, but his actions throughout the novel also call attention to the terrible things men do to women (and absolutely vice versa). He cheats, he lies, he tries to cover his own tracks, he attempts murder, he exonerates himself, he’s sometimes absolutely pathetic. But do his actions warrant such a violent response? Whose fault is it that neither member of this marriage is happy?
I read a review that this book is filled with two despicable protagonists—one obviously so, the other subtly so. This quote from one of them sums up their sham marriage:
“We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves—surprise!—we were poison. We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way.”
Because they tried so hard to be people they were not to suit the other, when the couple do get married, they don’t know each other at all. Of course the marriage is going to crumble and fall. Or, in this case, go up in flames.
Reading Goodreads reviews, it truly annoys me how many people hate this book just for the sake of hating it. It’s an arrogant thing to do to decide to hate something that a lot of people like. And it also strikes me how so many people judge a book by its “unputdownable” qualities. A book can be droll and circuitous and take forever to read, but often that means the book is worth the time and effort.
But anyway, back to the review. Above all, I think this book is built on a foundation of “he versus she.” All of the actions of the two main characters are driven by this exaggerated gender-wars attitude. This is a societal critique wrapped up in a murder thriller, and yes, it’s “unputdownable.” And the ending had me reeling…