KRVS

The Marriage Is The Real Mystery In 'Gone Girl'

Jun 5, 2012
Originally published on June 5, 2012 8:37 am

Gillian Flynn's new novel, Gone Girl, begins on the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary — the day Amy disappears.

It opens with a rather sinister reflection: "When I think of my wife," Nick says, "I always think of her head.... You could imagine the skull quite easily. I'd know her head anywhere."

Both Nick — whom police suspect of foul play — and Amy tell their stories in alternating chapters, with Amy represented through her journal. But Flynn tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer that the book's real mystery is the nature of Nick and Amy's strained marriage.


Interview Highlights

On how the characters' relationship began with deception, when Amy pretended to be 'the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants, the cool girl'

"I was definitely playing with the idea of how difficult it is in this day and age to have an authentic self. We're into this barrage of pop culture — you know, TV, movies, the Internet. We become creatures that we've made up, made of certain different flotsam from pop culture and certain different personas that are in style. And it was definitely playing with that idea of what do you do when two people marry? They each have a certain persona that they have created and as that gets dismantled, what does that reveal?"

On how being the inspiration for her parents' children's books made Amy see herself as a malleable product

"She grew up as this iconic character in addition to being a little girl. And within these books — Amazing Amy was the hero — she never did anything wrong. So she was a child who was idolized early on and became an icon early on and always felt like she was trying to live up to this paper version of herself, which can be a very dangerous thing."

On the media's fascination with true crime

"It's something I've always been kind of fascinated by, which is our increasing interest in true crime. I mean, we've always been kind of fascinated by it, but the idea of the media descending on this tragedy is very fascinating to me. You know, we're all kind of interested in this and now we're in an era in which tragedy is almost packaged, it's sort of consumable tragedy and you always know the different ingredients that are going to go into it — the beautiful wife who's perfect and the husband who probably did it. And certainly Nick suffers from that immediately, because everyone knows to look at the husband first and he's a guy who looks like a beautiful, handsome '80s villain. He's got the blond hair and the snarky good looks, so he immediately becomes a victim of that, in a way."

On the impossibility of understanding even your own marriage

"To me, marriage is the ultimate mystery. You know, there's that phrase: No one knows what goes on in anyone's marriage. And I guess the bottom line of this book is no one knows what's going on in [their] own marriage, a little bit, because we can't entirely know each other. And I think that's why married couples, when they're telling a story at dinner and one of them is getting it wrong, get so intense and crazy about it, you know, 'You're telling the story wrong!' It's because it's frightening in a way. It's frightening to think, well, we were both at this exact same experience, and he's getting or she's getting it wrong — what else do we have complete disconnects on? And there's something very frightening about that, at its core."

On writing a dark story about marriage when you're married

"It is so far from [me and my husband], although there are certain lines every once in a while that he would read and say, 'Wait, you stole that from me. That sounds like an argument we had,' or, 'That sounds like a debate that we have.' But it's a tough thing to go to your spouse and say, 'I'm going to write an incredibly dark story about marriage. Is that cool with you?' He was very gracious about the whole thing and I told him, 'Once you read through it, if there's anything that feels like it's cutting too close to the bone, let me know.' And he was game all the way, so I'm very grateful for that."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

People have been buzzing for weeks, in anticipation of a new mystery novel by Gillian Flynn. It's called "Gone Girl," and it's out today. The first three chapters are on our Web site, part of our "First Read" series.

NPR's Linda Wertheimer read the whole thing and spoke to the author. And she'll try not to give too much away about a book in which the characters not only lie to each other, but also to the reader.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: The book begins with a young husband talking about his wife: When I think of my wife, I always think of her head, he says. And then he goes on: You could imagine the skull quite easily; I'd know her head anywhere - a sort of faintly sinister sound to that. This is the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, and it is the day that Nick Dunne's wife, Amy, disappears.

That's the event this novel turns on - twists on might be better because the police think he might have murdered her. The two parties to this marriage of five years tell their story in alternating chapters. At the beginning of the book, he's in the present; she's represented by a journal.

"Gone Girl" is Gillian Flynn's third novel. She joined us from our New York bureau.

Ms. Flynn, there's an extraordinary description of their courtship in the book. I wonder if you could read that part for us.

GILLIAN FLYNN: Certainly. (Reading) That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants - the cool girl. Men always say that as the defining compliment, don't they? She's a cool girl. Being a cool girl means I'm a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes and burping; who plays video games and drinks cheap beer.

WERTHEIMER: So their relationship begins with her deception that she is the cool girl.

FLYNN: Yeah, you know, I was definitely playing with the idea of how difficult it is, in this day and age, to have an authentic self. We're into this barrage of pop culture - you know, TV, movies, the Internet. We've become - sort of creatures that we've made upl I mean, made of certain, different flotsam from pop culture and certain, different personas that are in style.

And it was definitely playing with that idea of, what do you do when two people marry? They each have a certain persona that they have created and as that gets dismantled, what does that reveal?

WERTHEIMER: You make the faltering economy a major backdrop of the story. These two young people move back to Missouri, after they both lose great jobs in New York City and have to leave their beautiful Brooklyn brownstone. Their own changed circumstances add huge changes to the marriage, so the economy is a character.

FLYNN: The economy is very much present. I started writing the book the book as the economy was faltering. And I, myself, was one of those former journalists who lost their job in the big wave of layoffs that happened throughout the media, at the time. And so I wanted them both to be writers and to have lost that means of support, and to be forced to these reduced circumstances; and what happens when you lose that outlet, and you lose that self-identifier.

WERTHEIMER: I wonder if you think that if times had been prosperous, if they'd been hanging out in that brownstone forever, they would have been OK, or at least different?

FLYNN: I don't think...

(LAUGHTER)

FLYNN: I don't think this couple will - ever would have been OK. Sooner or later, they would've uncovered the third or fourth layer of who they really were, and found out that they were a very toxic combination for each other. But certainly, I wanted them to feel that they were slowly being put in smaller and smaller boxes; and what that pressure does to a couple when the different layers that they're proud of are taken away from them until, you know, they're back on the banks of the Mississippi River in Missouri, just the two of them, in a house.

WERTHEIMER: One of the other not-human characters in the book is the media - because when Amy disappears, all of a sudden there's a tremendous interest all over the country, in what happened to her. Did he do her in?

FLYNN: Absolutely. It's something that I've always been kind of fascinated by, which is our increasing interest in true crime. I mean, we've always been kind of fascinated by it. But the idea of the media descending on this tragedy is very fascinating to me. You know, we're in an era in which tragedy is almost packaged; it's sort of consumable tragedy. And you always know the different ingredients that are going to go into it - the beautiful wife who's perfect, and the husband who probably did it.

And certainly, Nick suffers from that immediately - is because everyone knows to look at the husband first. And he's a guy who looks like a beautiful, handsome, you know, '80s villain. He's got the blond hair and the snarky good looks, so he immediately becomes a victim of that, in a way.

WERTHEIMER: Even when we talk about Amy disappears, Nick is suspected of having had a hand in her disappearance and all, that's really not the scariest part of this thing. The scariest part of the book is marriage.

FLYNN: To me, marriage is the ultimate mystery. And, you know, there's that phrase: No one knows what goes on in anyone's marriage. And I guess the bottom line of this book is, no one knows what's going on in your own marriage, a little bit, because we can't entirely know each other. And I think that's why married couples, when they're telling a story at dinner and one of them is getting it wrong - gets so intense and crazy about it. You know, you're telling the story wrong!

(LAUGHTER)

FLYNN: It's because it's frightening to think well, we were both at this exact, same experience; and he's getting, or she's getting, it wrong. What else do we have complete disconnects on? And there's something very frightening about that, at its core.

WERTHEIMER: You know, I was sort of amused to see that in the section of the book where authors thank everybody who helped them, you have this lovely hymn of praise to your husband - almost as if OK, guys, don't think that this is us; it's not us.

(LAUGHTER)

FLYNN: It is so far from us - although there are certain lines, every once in a while, that he would read and say, wait, you stole that from me; that sounds like an argument we had; or, that sounds like a debate that we have. But it's a tough thing to go to your spouse and say, I'm going to write an incredibly dark story about marriage. Is that cool with you? He was very...

(LAUGHTER)

FLYNN: He was very gracious about the whole thing. And I told him, once you read through it, if there's anything that feels like it's cutting too close to the bone, let me know. And he was game all the way, so I'm very grateful for that.

WERTHEIMER: Gillian Flynn; her third book is called "Gone Girl." She spoke to us from our New York bureau. Thank you very much.

FLYNN: Thank you so much.

GREENE: And the first three chapters of "Gone Girl" are up at our Web site, NPR.org, if you'd like to give them a read. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.