Gillian Flynn has written three books, none of which you should loan to your 12-year-old sibling. Here’s a quick, relatively spoiler-free guide, should you want to bone up before the cinematic premiere of Flynn’s third book Gone Girl, in October 2014.
If you like: David Lynch, Law and Order: SVU, and books and movies that employ the anti-hero trope.
About the book: This is easily one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. Objects’ narrator Camille Preaker is a hardened beauty queen turned journalist coming back to her hometown of Wind Gap to report on the murder investigation of two local girls. Camille has a wealth of problems of her own— alcoholism, a penchant for self-abuse and a mother who veers dangerously between cold and calculating and sickeningly warm and suffocating—which only become more acute the longer she stays.
The best: This book brings to mind the opening scene of Blue Velvet, where the camera pans from lovingly bland suburbia to below the green-lawned surface, where worms and maggots gnaw furiously. The secrets that the citizens of Wind Gap carry vary from petty to horrific, but nothing in Flynn’s debut novel feels contrived. This is a book that will stay with you, but not only because of the content—Flynn’s debut novel has some beautiful writing, and Camille is impressively sympathetic and disgusting as its hero.
The not best: That said, Camille is probably the most rounded character of the bunch. In her effort to make this book as black as possible, Flynn gleefully stomps on any shred of decency any of these characters might find in favor of incredibly unsettling plotlines— and you have to wonder if some of the scenes genuinely belong in the book or if they’re there for shock value.
Conclusion: Read it and thank God your life could never be like this book.
If you like: True Detective, documentaries about cults.
About the book: With Libby Day, Flynn revisits the willful, damaged female protagonist trope that worked so well for her in Objects. Day is the sole survivor of a massacre reportedly committed by her brother. Years later, inspired by a need for money and funded by group working for the exoneration of her brother, she starts her own investigation into the murders.
The best: There’s a lot going on in this book, but Flynn shows an admirable willingness to experiment with character arc. She expertly marries otherwise relatable, likeable characters with fairly unforgivable actions, forcing the reader to face the morally gray area that many authors have tried to achieve less successfully.
The not best: Unfortunately, Flynn tries to do too much here; vague references to satanic worship, abuse and the desperate underbelly of flat Midwestern poverty told via flashbacks get mixed-up in an ultimately convoluted mystery.
Conclusion: It’s worth a read, but probably not a re-read.
If you like: Suspense thrillers with subtle wit: think Basic Instinct meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
About the book: One of Flynn’s greatest attributes is her ability to tell a compelling story that you might read in one sitting on a beach in a supremely well-written way. Her prose is just as tight as her plot, and Gone Girl is no exception. The novel centers around Nick and Amy, whose paper-perfect marriage soon reads like crazed, steroidal version of Edward Albee’s George and Martha and nothing is quite as it seems.
The best: Flynn does an excellent job managing multiple points of view here and not giving too much away too quickly, while also maintaining a taut tenseness throughout. Gone Girl succeeds where Dark Places didn’t, as the flashbacks and multiple perspectives add to the suspense rather than distract. Her storytelling feels effortless rather than expositional; at the risk of sounding wildly cliché, Gone Girl is a hard book to put down. And the novel’s ending, decried by most as a cop-out, impressed me as a cold, disquieting and revealing look at the characters and world she built.
The not best: While incredibly fun to read, Gone Girl flounders a bit with some mildly unbelievable plot points. Flynn manages to reign it all in by the end, but there are some portions that have you wondering how any of this could be plausible.
Conclusion: Everyone you know has read it and wants to talk to you about it. Do it.