Book Notes: 'Gone Girl'

Rae Padilla Francoeur

“Gone Girl.” By Gillian Flynn. Crown Publishers, New York, 2012. 419 pages. $25.

Remember John and Jane Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) — the combative husband and wife in the 2005 movie “Mr. And Mrs. Smith”?

They practically nuke each other. Amy and Nick Dunne, in Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” are comparably destructive, although much more cunning, much more cerebral in their methods.

The book starts out on “the day of.” The day that Amy disappears. A violent encounter between Amy and someone else takes place in the couple’s house while Nick is out (no verifiable alibi). A slew of clues point to Nick as the man guilty of what is most likely Amy’s murder. Police, media, family and the world at large are sure that Nick killed Amy. Nick’s only supports are his twin sister Margo and a sleazy, high-profile defense attorney.

Both Dunnes have lost their jobs. They had been among “the beautiful people” — impossibly good looking and relatively successful in NYC. Amy has known privilege. Her parents are successful co-authors of a series of books for young readers based on the life of Amy. Hilarious, clever details like this, that lead to delicious plotting as the story unfolds, are among Flynn’s many skilled tricks of the trade. When the hard times hit, even Amy’s parents suffer and Amy must hand over most of the money her parents have given her just when the Dunnes need it most.

Nick’s life has been much more of a struggle. His father has Alzheimer’s and his mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Nick, who had been a hard-working journalist for a NYC-based magazine for the last 11 years, relocates to his hometown of North Carthage, Mo., from Brooklyn. He makes the decision to move without consulting Amy, one indicator of the state of their marriage. His purported plan is to care for his dying mother. He’s desperate to escape his shameful demise. And he drags Amy along with him.

The Dunnes’ lives unravel further in Missouri. We know this because we are reading their story in alternating chapters narrated by Nick and Amy. Sometimes we are reading Amy’s journal. These two characters have very different, very believable voices. They are contemporary, miserable and complicated and, for a time, unlikable.

The mystery of Amy’s disappearance is further intensified by a growing sense that the story we are reading is somehow not the whole story. Once you encounter the first surprise twist, do not relax. The twists keep coming, faster and faster. A psychological roller coaster.

As many have discovered, this book is a diverting summer read. At 419 pages, you can settle in and ride out a long and entertaining story of angst and intrigue set in Mark Twain’s Missouri. Storytelling. Escapism. Some books aim right there and some, like “Gone Girl,” close right in on the sweet spot.

Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at Or read her blog at or follow her @RaeAF.