As both a reader and a writer, I’ve always had an unspoken cardinal rule. The major characters in a story don’t need to be perfect. They can, and maybe even should, be flawed, broken and quirky.
But somewhere along the way one of them has to be likeable.
Likeable doesn’t have to mean heroic, romantic or kind. A likeable character doesn’t need to make me wish we could be BFFs. But they do have to be someone I wouldn’t cringe over having a beer with on a slow night at the pub.
Enter Nick and Amy, the dynamic duo of main characters in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. My local radio station’s morning show is fond of the term “douchenozzle.” If I had to pick one word to describe both Nick and Amy, I might steal that one. If Nick popped into my family pub, I’d smirk over his smug face and wonder how long before someone tried to kick his butt. If Amy showed up all perfectly pretty and spoiled-little-rich-girl, I’d be making vomit gestures even before I realized she was also a psychobitch.
Nick and Amy, to put it nicely, are a toxic stew that could give you the Norwalk virus on sterioids.
Even so, Gone Girl is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It had me hooked from the get-go, and kept me up until the wee hours of the morning on a work night. Gillian Flynn took my rule about needing to likeable main character and burned it like garbage in a bonfire. She accomplished this with a riveting plot, a dark and honest sense of humor, and more bends and twists than a yoga class.
The basic storyline is that Amy disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary. Nick comes home to find signs of a violent struggle and a vanished wife. For most of the book, we see the search for Amy through Nick’s eyes, and we’re appalled at his jackass thoughts and behavior. We also get glimpses of Nick and Amy’s past and the gradual demise of their relationship through flashbacks to her journal.
Or do we?
The story itself is good and keeps you on your toes. What happened to Amy? What will be the next thing to unravel in Nick’s world? What new clue will make him seem like even more of a douchenozzle?
But what makes the book great is the damn-ya’ll-need-some-medication voices of Nick and Amy. They take you deep-sea diving into the murky depths of one hell of a screwed-up relationship. If your own partner’s biggest issue is the occasional dose of PMS or dirty socks on the bathroom floor, you’ll count your lucky stars. Amy and Nick make you laugh even as you squirm a little and swear to yourself that you’ve never felt quite like that. The monsters in this book aren’t under the bed. They are the ones telling the tale, and they are an exaggerated version of our worst selves when love goes bad.
The supporting cast in this tale also make it a great read. Nick’s twin sister Margo is a bright and funny light. The bumbling but sincere cops are well portrayed. Amy’s parents, a psychologist and children’s book writing duo, make you appreciate your own dysfunctional family. The ex-lovers and bimbonic college girl and collection of quirky friends and drifters who make appearances also lend their own spices to the psycho stew.
Gone Girl is a ballsy, funny, twisted and entertaining read. I wouldn’t want to hang out with Nick and Amy, but they sure made for a good tale.
For more on Gone Girl and her other works, visit Gillian Flynn’s web site. I’ll definitely be hunting down her other two books.