Gillian Flynn has outdone herself. A master of the macabre and the unexpected, this author—so at home in the crooked psychological pathways of the mind—deconstructs and reassembles a marriage as emotionally littered with carnage as The War of the Roses.
Amy is the daughter of writers, a New York couple who build their fortune on a childhood series, Amazing Amy, their daughter the prototype for the young adventuress until her fictional marriage to “Able Andy.” Luckily for Amy (the girl men want to date and women want to be), she has fallen in love with Nick Dunne, also a NY writer, a journalist. That Amy’s employment consists of creating quizzes for magazines is insignificant (in spite of her Master’s Degree): Amy has a trust fund thanks to Amazing Amy’s continuous sales.
Then economic tragedy strikes. Nick loses his job, along with many others in the industry. Amy’s father declares that the authors of Amazing Amy are nearly broke, borrowing heavily from Amy’s trust fund to survive their personal Armageddon, while Nick’s mother is dying of cancer in Missouri. Nick and Amy move to Missouri, where Nick buys a bar with the dregs of Amy’s money, running it with his twin sister, Margo. As the couple’s fifth anniversary approaches, they are frequently at odds with one another. Amy is convinced that Nick no longer loves her, while he is exhausted by the demands of an emotionally insatiable wife. He rushes from the bar after a phone call from a neighbor to find Amy missing and the living room turned upside down. Once the police arrive, the predictable happens: when the smoke clears and all likely explanations have been pursued, Nick is the most logical suspect and Amy likely dead.
The perfect couple is in the headlines, a cause celebre for a cable news diva who is sure that Nick has killed his wife. Townsfolk argue over Amy’s fate and Nick’s part in the drama. Nick does himself no favors in the first critical minutes of the police investigation, blurting out inconsistencies, covering up half-lies, generally making his efforts to remain cool-headed look calculated and uncaring. Thus begins Flynn’s true storytelling genius as a Machiavellian manipulator of circumstances and impressions who unfolds a plot so devious that the reader is caught between admiration and real dislike for each flawed character, only to be shocked by revelations that put a new face on the marital contretemps.
Seriously, halfway through, I thought Flynn had let me down, that her brilliance was finally exhausted and this might be yet another tale of unlikable characters whose fates meant nothing to me. My mistake. Regardless of what conclusions the police—and the voracious public embrace—this is never a murder mystery. It is always an intellectual match of two strong personalities in a love/hate relationship played for the highest stakes, a cat-and-mouse game of betrayal and revenge on a grand scale. The press, public and police are necessary pawns but truly insignificant in determining the winner. Unfortunately, in this domestic nightmare, the winner is also a loser.