“Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.”
Nick Dunne comes home to find his wife, Amy Elliott Dunne, is missing. As the police begin the investigation, it looks more and more like Nick killed his wife - but Nick insists he's innocent. Who is right and what happened to Amy?
When a book was on a New York Times Bestseller's list, I used to assume that meant the book was good. "Used to" meaning, until I read some of these "bestsellers" and realized that just because they sell well, doesn't mean they are "good books". So now, I pretty much avoid anything on the Bestseller's shelf (unless it is a Star Wars book or Neil Gaiman).
By this thought process, this book should never have gotten into my hands. But I kept seeing all these good reviews, and I'm addicted to buying books, so I broke down and bought it. But it might have stayed on my shelf for a few more months/years if it had not been for this review.
You see, I've also been in a bit of a reading slump. Or should I say, I'm gradually coming OUT of a reading slump. Back in the spring, one more crappy YA faux-topia made me despair of my love of reading and want to throw in the towel on my passion. Slowly, I've been finding books that make me love to read again - Neil Gaiman, Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling. And I can add a new one to the list: Gillian Flynn.
I've gone back and forth whether I'm a mystery/thriller girl - this book finally proves that I DO like mystery/thrillers, just not the sh!tty "dime a dozen" murder-by-numbers novels that seem to populate most of the Bestseller lists (coincidence?! I just finished reading Dan Brown, so definitely NOT!). Flynn is plain stunning; she has a complex story but tells it in a way that doesn't require 3 chapters of "And This Is How The Bad Guy Did This". Flynn doesn't write down to me; she treats me like an adult, able to put two and two together (or if I'm too dense and can't, that's my fault, not hers).
The story centers on Nick and Amy, two of the worst people you will ever meet in your life. Nick is a self-centered, arrogant pr!ck; Amy is a self-centered, vindictive b!tch. Nick likes to think he's so amazing and hot sh!t; Amy *is* Amazing, as the star of her parents' Amazing Amy children's book series, and pretty much believes the world should revolve around her. Honestly, these people are so execrable, I wanted to scratch their eyes out (though I liked Amy in the beginning and started to like Nick a bit more in the end). THIS is a PRIME EXAMPLE of how to write awful, unlikable main characters and STILL make your story interesting enough that the audience is engaged.
The other characters are equally well-drawn, from Nick's twin sister, Margo "Go" to Amy's clingy parents to Amy's creepy old friends. I am reminded of JK Rowling's adult books - the characters are sometimes sleazy, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but all realistic and with their own motivations.
What makes this even more fun is that I've almost come to expect bad characterization in mysteries and thrillers. It's more about the whodunnit, right? So who cares who the characters are - make them as stereotypical or cliched as you want, and people will still read for the mystery. So it really makes me giddy excited that Flynn spent so much time on such great characters.
But the real artwork is in the story. Oh, the story! The first half takes you down one path - poor, abused Amy! What a wretched husband Nick is! And then at about the halfway point - mindf@#$!! I can't really say much without going into spoiler territory (and I won't do that, no worries), but I was stunned. It threw me for a loop - though maybe, given how dense I can be, you shouldn't take my word for it! Regardless, I thought it clever, and the ending is definitely not what you would expect, though I was VERY satisfied with it. (Thank GOD it's not one of those awful "and they lived happily ever after" atrocious things.)
To round things out, Flynn's writing was excellent. Again, works by Dan Brown and Nicholas Sparks made me realize that popular novel's writing only had to be at about a 4th grade reading level and very prosaic at that. While Flynn isn't super flowery or literary, it's still very nice to read, easy on the eyes. And when she DOES use descriptors and metaphors, they A) make sense and B) actually give depth to the characters and the situation.
You know what? I was going to rate this 4 stars, but I've decided I'm not. I really liked this book. I really enjoyed the mystery, the psychological thriller aspects. Yes, the characters are awful. Yes, the story is what you might expect two awful characters to produce. And yes, there is rape (or lots of rape accusations) and murder and slut-shaming (so warning for people who don't want to read that). But it kept my interest (with the exception of two places early in the novel) and, more importantly, made me realize that I shouldn't just assume ALL mysteries and thrillers are like the schlock I've read. There ARE amazing, suspenseful authors out there - you just won't necessarily find them on the NYT Bestseller's List. (Though in this case, I did!)
Gillian Flynn, thank you for a great book, thank you for helping me out of my slump, and thank you for saving your genre! I can't wait to read more of your works!