On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
If you asked me at the halfway point what I thought I’d rate this book, I would have told you five stars with absolute conviction. And I would have rated it thusly, had it maintained its momentum throughout. Sadly, it did not.
The first two thirds of this book were brilliant. I’m talking world class, fuck, I wish I could weave a plot so intricately, type of brilliance. But then I got to the “big reveal” (cue gasps) and it soared too close to the sun. Its wings caught fire, and I spent the last third of the book plummeting to the ground, surrounded by its burning plumage, a helpless passenger strapped to its back.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? With the introduction of Nick Dunne, our “trusty” main character. Ha. I never trusted that bastard. My unease began on page frigging one, when he said,
“Like a child, I picture opening her (his wife’s) skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts.”
Cue strobing red lights and blaring alarms.
WARNING, WARNING, WARNING! THESE ARE NOT NORMAL THOUGHTS TO HAVE ABOUT YOUR SPOUSE. BRAIN SIFTING IS INDICATIVE OF HANNIBAL LECTER LEVELS OF PSYCHOSIS. ACCEPT NO FOOD FROM THIS MAN. ESPECIALLY IF IT’S PINK AND SOMEWHAT SPONGEY.
My suspicions only grew from there. His wife has gone missing, and gee, isn’t he just so upset about it? No. No he isn’t. His vague allusions about what took place during the morning of said disappearance, his nervous and unbalanced mind, the surrounding cast of characters noticing his “twitchy” behavior; they only served to strengthen my belief throughout the first chapter that Nick had done something Bad.
And then we have a sudden switch of perspectives thanks to the diary of Amy, his missing wife. From Nick’s point of view, we know her as an aloof, haughty Manhattanite who thinks herself far above the muddy Mississippi riverbank town he’s dragged her to, but in the first entry of her journal she comes across as a flighty, superficial nitwit.
This is where that brilliance I lauded first became apparent. Nick portrays himself to be a harangued, belittled husband, completely emasculated by a bored, waspish wife. Amy portrays herself as a woman so sensitive to his feelings and the opinions of others that when he skips their anniversary to go out drinking with his buddies, she says nothing, so as not to appear to be that woman.
In Amy’s diary, Nick is the bad guy and she’s the neglected, loving wife. In Nick’s mind, she’s the bad guy and he’s the neglected, can’t-do-anything-right husband.
So which is she? Which is he?
Flynn presents us with not one, but two unreliable narrators. One of them is lying about the other, and oh boy, do you want to think it’s Nick. Because Nick, bless his chauvinistic soul, is a liar. He lies about little, unimportant things. He lies to the cops about details that are relevant to their investigation, ones that will only make him look guilty when the truth comes out. Why does he do this?
Cue the voice of the collective:
BECAUSE HE KILLED HER. HE DID IT. HE CALLS WOMEN BITCHES IN HIS HEAD. AMY SAID HE SHOVED HER. HE’S A PHILANDERING, WIFE-ABUSING, MISOGYNISTIC PIG. KILL HIM!
Nope, too obvious. So I turned to Amy, who, through her diary entries, and Nick’s inner monologue, you begin to realize isn’t some flighty nitwit, but a highly intelligent woman. I began to wonder if she was still alive. I theorized that she’d staged her murder and had framed Nick to get back at him for cheating on her. When I got to the big reveal and discovered that my suspicions were correct, I was a bit let-down. I wanted it to be something else. I wanted some miniscule scrap of information that I’d somehow overlooked to end up being the BIG CLUE as to what really happened. I wanted Nick’s dad to be the murderer. I wanted Desi to have kidnapped her. I wanted Nick’s mistress to be involved. I wanted anything but to be right.
Even though I was disappointed by the plot twist, I have to say that I was really impressed with the portrayal of modern day “whodunits” in the circus that is the media. Thanks to the internet and 24 hour news channels with waaaaay too much time on their hands, we all know that anyone with even an ounce of suspicion lingering about them in high profile cases such as this go to trial before they ever see the inside of a courtroom. They get to face public crucifixion first. As Nick learns first hand.
He’s portrayed as uncaring (because he’s uncaring), he’s portrayed as an adulterer (because he’s an adulterer), he’s portrayed as smarmy and unlikeable (because he’s smarmy and unlikeable). And you, used to this three-ring fiasco, begin to think he’s guilty. Hell, you want him to be guilty. You want Nick to be a murderer, because he’s a “bad guy”.
The truth is that someone can be all of the things you think Nick is and STILL NOT BE A MURDERER. Somehow, the collective has forgotten that, and I love Flynn for making us face that uncomfortable truth.
This review is getting long, so instead of detailing all my grievances with the last third of the book, I’ll just end with this:
What. The. Fuck.