What’s Alan Reading?: Reviewing Gillian Flynn’s dark, twisty ‘Gone Girl’

Senior Television Writer
07.17.12 19 Comments

Note: I’m taking much of this week off in between Comic-Con and press tour. This is one of a few posts I wrote in advance that should publish this week. If you’re wondering why I didn’t cover a particular show or story this week, it’s because I’m on vacation.

Back at the old blog, I would sometimes write about non-TV entertainment that I was consuming. Usually, it was movies, but occasionally it would be a book I had read that really wowed me.

In this case, the book in question – Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” – has a TV connection of a sort, as it’s written by a former TV critic. (Flynn used to write for Entertainment Weekly; I knew her well enough to say hello to at press tour, but no more than that.) But Flynn’s old job is only interesting in the way that it informs the history of her two main characters, a married pair of ex-magazine writers forced by the bad economy and the decaying state of print journalism to leave New York and relocate to a small Missouri town.

What makes “Gone Girl” worth discussing here isn’t that it was written by someone who used to do what I do, but that it is the most gripping, surprising, and purely entertaining book I’ve read in a long time – and one so disturbing that by the end I felt like I needed to take a few showers to wash it away.

Much of what makes “Gone Girl” so effective are the twists and turns Flynn puts into the story and the way she tells it, so I’ll try to say as little as possible about the plot.

The short version is that we meet Nick and Amy at a low point in their lives and marriage. Nick was once a hotshot entertainment writer. Amy had a minor level of fame and a large trust fund because her parents wrote a series of beloved children’s books based on her. They were once madly in love. Now their chosen careers are over, their money’s all gone, they’re living far from where Amy ever dreamed of being, and they’ve become virtual strangers in the large McMansion they’ve rented after it was foreclosed on its owners. (This is in every way a recession-era thriller, where everyone’s life – not just the people who used to write magazine quizzes – isn’t what it was supposed to be even a few years ago.)

And then one day… Amy vanishes.

Flynn splits the narrative between Nick in the present and Amy in the past, as we get to see the birth and then decay of their life together, even as Nick is scrambling to figure out what happened to his wife – and, of course, drawing interest from the police, as all husbands do in this scenario.

The only other thing I will say is that everything turns out to be much more complicated, and much darker, than it seems.

Flynn has a strong command not only of the story she’s telling, but of the two main characters in it, and of the world they’ve found themselves in. Though there’s already a movie in the works, with Reese Witherspoon as Amy, so much of what makes “Gone Girl” effective comes from the way Flynn uses the prose novel format to tell us things, and in what order. I’m sure a smart filmmaker can make it work on screen, but I fear that the film version of this story will feel much more familiar than the book version, even with the exact same plot.

But I highly, highly recommend the book, and if people have already read it and want to discuss it in the comments, feel free. (And if you haven’t read it, I’d advise not checking out the comments on this one. Treat this as my spoiler review of a TV episode.)

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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