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Life Stories in Literature Literature & Psychology

“Gone Girl”: Forging a Life Story

 

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Gone Girl: cover
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl
Random House, 2012

Spoiler Alert
This discussion contains spoilers for both the book and the film Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

I can’t think of any novel that features the concept of life story more prominently than Gone Girl. Author Gillian Flynn deftly uses variations on the life story theme as elements of both plot and character development.

In Part One we meet Nick Dunne as a first-person narrator. Soon we learn, along with Nick, about the apparent disappearance of his wife, Amy Elliott Dunne, on that day, their fifth anniversary.

As this section unfolds, we learn that Nick is less than perfect. He lies to the police about his alibi because, we eventually find out, he doesn’t want to reveal his affair with one of his students at the local college. Like the police, we begin to suspect Nick. Some of the most damning evidence against Nick is Amy’s diary entries that reveal a woman afraid that her husband is planning to kill her. In this opening section Flynn uses Amy’s diary, the record of her life story, as a plot element to arouse suspicion and doubt and thereby to create suspense.

Then in Part Two we meet Amy in person. She, too, is a first-person narrator, and she begins by giving us her checklist of 33 items of how she “did everything”:

I can tell you more about how I did everything, but I’d like you to know me first. Not Diary Amy, who is a work of fiction (and Nick said I wasn’t really a writer, and why did I ever listen to him?), but me, Actual Amy. What kind of woman would do such a thing? Let me tell you a story, a true story, so you can begin to understand.

To start: I should never have been born.

Amy introduces herself to us by telling her life story. Her mother had had five miscarriages and two stillbirths before, unexpectedly and seemingly miraculously, giving birth to Amy, who lived. Although Amy always felt superior to the seven babies who died, she also felt jealous:

They get to be perfect without even trying, without even facing one moment of existence, while I am stuck here on earth, and every day I must try, and every day is a chance to be less than perfect.

Amy’s parents even commandeered her life story to produce the Amazing Amy series of books, which made them rich. But those books didn’t rejoice in the real Amy they had. Instead, the books portrayed a child nearly perfect in every way, an amazing child that they were immensely proud of.

Constantly trying to be perfect, Amy admits, is “an exhausting way to live. I lived that way until I was thirty-one.” But her life changed when she met Nick:

Nick loved me… . But he didn’t love me, me. Nick loved a girl who doesn’t exist. I was pretending, the way I often did, pretending to have a personality. I can’t help it, it’s what I’ve always done: The way some women change fashion regularly, I change personalities.

When she met Nick, she was trying out the persona of the Cool Girl. But eventually that persona became too much for her to maintain. She dropped it and showed Nick “a Real Amy in there, and she was so much better, more interesting and complicated and challenging than Cool Amy.” But Nick did not like Real Amy. “So that’s how the hating first began.”

As this section continues, we learn that Amy has been planning her disappearance, her way to punish Nick, for a year. The key element in her plan is the fake diary she wrote, backdated to build the picture of a woman gradually coming to fear that her husband planned to kill her.

Once we learn that Amy’s diary, which we had relied on as evidence in Part One, is fake, Flynn’s use of life story changes from a plot element to an element of character development. Through Amy’s different stories we have met Narrator Amy, Diary Amy, and Cool Girl Amy. When we finally meet the real Amy … . But you’ll have to see her for yourself.

© 2014 by Mary Daniels Brown