Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl.

NY: Crown, 2012.

Nick, small-town boy from Missouri, moved to New York to become a journalist, and he was doing reasonably well working for a magazine when he met Amy, the daughter of two psychologists who were also children’s book authors. They fell hard for each other and were married, and everything was great, more or less. Then the economy tanked and print journalism was spiraling downward anyway, and Nick was laid off. And then Amy was laid off, though she hadn’t really had much of a “serious” job anyway.

Then news comes that Nick’s mother has terminal cancer and that makes up his mind for him; they’re moving back to Missouri. And while it’s a somewhat depressing homecoming for him, it’s a trek into the wilds of the unknown hinterland for native-New Yorker Amy. Nick and his twin sister, Margo, buy a bar (with the last of Amy’s trust fund) and they try to scrape by.

Then, one day, Nick comes home to find the front door standing open, the house partly in a mess (and partly, strangely, untouched), and Amy is gone. Was she kidnapped? Fled? Nick has various personal issues and he’s not entirely straight with the police, which doesn’t help. And we begin reading installments of Amy’s diary over the past five years of their marriage, and it tells a very different story of their relationship from what we’ve been hearing from Nick.

All well and good, right? But there are major problems lurking ahead with this book. As the first half of the story progresses, you begin gradually to wonder who’s telling the truth. Is Amy simply wearing blinders? Is Nick going to turn out to be a very unreliable narrator? Is someone — or everyone — being set up? And then you come to almost exactly the halfway point, . . . and in less than a page the entire story has been turned on its head. Nobody is who you thought they were. The sudden new course the plot steers is Hitchcockian in its ability to knock you completely off balance. And, to be honest, I sat there for a moment trying to decide whether I wanted to finish the book or just chuck it across the room (metaphorically, anyway, since I was reading it on my Kindle).

Finally, I figured, well, there’s a whole half a book left, who knows what new turn the story will take? And Flynn’s first two novels were absolutely first-rate. And I could think of several possible justice-filled endings that might satisfy me, knowing what I now knew, so I took a deep breath and kept on going. I got maybe another hundred pages into it — and I can’t reveal what happens without ruining the book for you. But I found myself putting the book aside for a day, or two, or three, and reading something else. I wondered if finishing it was worth the time. I had a feeling a really bizarre ending to the whole story was looming, and you know what? I didn’t care. There’s not a single character in this book — not Nick, not Amy, not his father, not either of her parents, not the idiot Missouri cops, not Amy’s redneck acquaintances at the cabin, not the various stalkers (or whatever) — for whom I could feel the least bit of empathy. Maybe Margo, a little. And maybe their cancer-ridden mother. But none of the others. They’re not even interesting villains. And if you can’t find a character in the book who’s worth reading about, why the hell bother?

Flynn is a first-rate craftsman when it comes to putting the words together, and I will wait patiently for her next book and I will give it a try. Because every author is entitled to one literary disaster, and this is Flynn’s. So she’ll get another chance — but she won’t get two.

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