Shelf Life is a weekly book column where our staff reviews new releases, buzzed-about novels and personal favorites.
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, made into a major motion picture last year, is a psychological thriller that deals with complex elements of love, hate, jealousy, obsession and lies. Although the movie was aesthetically disturbing for viewers, the book takes readers through the minds of Nick and Amy on an unpredictable emotional journey of sadness, dry humor, suspicion, anger, shock and, of course, fear.
Amy Elliott, a strikingly beautiful, independent busybody from New York City, known by many for her psychologist parents’ best-selling children’s book series, “Amazing Amy,” is married to Nick Dunne, a quirky Missourian journalist who lost his job with a New York magazine. The two are forced to move to Nick’s hometown, where he teaches part-time at a university and co-owns a bar with his twin sister, Margo.
Amy’s former sense of self — the self her parents’ books helped form, the “amazing” self she envisions — begins diminishing in the small town while Nick’s pride suffers and family issues from his past make him bitter. The couple’s marriage is strained and on the verge of collapse when Amy mysteriously disappears on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. Confusion quickly turns to suspicion as more and more clues start pointing to Nick: the scene of the crime, his lack of an alibi, his affair with a student and even his facial expressions lead to a public rally against him. But did he really kill her? Is Amy even dead?
Most of the plot unfolds in a series of back-and-forth interpretations from Nick’s own investigation and Amy’s diary, which leaves the reader wondering who the “bad guy” really is. Flynn’s writing is so descriptive, so intense and realistic when describing the characters’ thoughts; it makes the reader feel deeply connected to but strongly revolted by Nick and Amy throughout the book.
More than any other theme, Gone Girl addresses the question of identity and what it means to be your own person in a world full of media.
“I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say,” Flynn writes. “It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.”
It seemed that Flynn, a former journalist and television critic, used these character traits as a not-so-subtle jab at contemporary media and the irreversible effects it can have on society.
Gone Girl is a gritty tale of jealousy and deceit that knows no bounds. It is more than just high-action entertainment reading; it forces the reader to ask, “What personality would I have in a world without media telling me how to behave? Who am I at the core of my being?”
That is the positive message to take away from this dark story, and it is a question that our society, particularly the millennial generation, should examine more.