“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.”
So opens Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl, creepily enough. The tale of a disappearance and the web of suspicion it casts over a small town and its apparently orderly citizenry, Flynn's novel has met with both strong sales and critical praise. Kirkus praised it as “one of those rare thrillers whose revelations actually intensify its suspense instead of dissipating it.” We recently caught up with Flynn to chat about her book and its fright-making qualities.
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By all appearances and reports, you’re a nice, well-adjusted young woman. How did this tale of mayhem and all-around bad behavior come to you?
I think because I’m a (relatively) nice and (relatively) well-adjusted (relatively) young woman, I’ve always been interested in what makes people do bad things; what forces of personality and chance come together to create a storm of nastiness? My characters are usually, to some degree, challenging. Sometimes [they're] downright awful. With my first two books, I explored isolation. My characters had a deep inability to connect, a deep loneliness that created and nurtured dark impulses and events. With Gone Girl, I knew I wanted to go the opposite direction. What happens when you do deeply connect… and it still goes wrong? I wanted to look at marriage at its most toxic, yet still make it recognizable. I wanted anyone who is in a long-term relationship to look at their partner and get a little afraid, which I suppose undermines the whole “well-adjusted” thing.
On that note, you tell the story from different points of view. Did you have any trouble getting inside your characters’ heads?
Once I decided to tell the story using dueling first-person narrators—husband and wife—I got nervous. They would each have to sound very, very genuine and very unique and separate from each other, or there was no point. So I took a long time getting inside their heads—and probably even longer getting back out, but that’s a different story. I did a lot of old-fashioned writing exercises, stuff I learned back in college. I’d write a scene with Amy or Nick as a child, knowing I wouldn’t use it. I’d write magazine essays from their points of view, since they’re both writers. That’s actually where Amy’s “Cool Girl” diatribe came from, a writing exercise. But I liked it so much I knew it had to be in the book, and I’m glad I kept it, because it’s one of the things readers mention to me the most. With Nick, aside from possibly being a killer, he’s not far off from me, biographically: We’re both Missouri kids who headed to New York and wrote for magazines and loved pop culture. After 10 years working at Entertainment Weekly, it was fun to do a book where I could let loose my pop-culture obsession a bit.
Our reviewer called out the final pages of Gone Girl as being especially chilling. That’s true enough, but do you have a favorite part of the book, something, perhaps, that especially pleased you (or scared you, even) as you were writing it?
Well, thanks. I love the final pages, but they’ve certainly been controversial. As I mentioned, I did love that "Cool Girl" diatribe—I was particularly pleased with myself after that, and writers are rarely particularly pleased with themselves. And I do always giggle at Go’s suggestion for what Nick’s anniversary present to his wife should be. But I suppose what I’m proudest of is just telling this fairly wild story and yet still having people be able to connect with it and even side with characters. Team Nick, Team Amy—I love it.
People go missing all the time in this world, and we remember so few of them, even as bad guys like Drew Peterson drift in and out of public consciousness. Did you have any real-world cases in mind as you were writing Gone Girl?
I didn’t have specific cases, but I am certainly familiar with the cases that do get national attention. The woman is pretty, the husband is handsome, some interesting back story usually surfaces, and timing is a key. So I wrote accordingly: Amy and Nick are blond, blue-eyed, gorgeous people. Amy is the model for the children’s book series Amazing Amy that her parents wrote. She disappears on her five-year wedding anniversary. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being caught up in true-crime cases. We’ve been interested in true crime for centuries; it’s what the penny press was built on. As human beings, we clearly find some meaning in these cases. But I think we need to remember that we are basically consuming someone else’s tragedy, and we should be responsible consumers and turn off the TV or put down the book when it crosses the line from journalism to exploitation.
Now that you’ve brought Gone Girl to its most satisfying resolution, what are you working on next?
After spending two years painstakingly putting together the elaborate jigsaw puzzle that is Gone Girl, I am now smashing it apart so I can reconstruct it as a screenplay. Twentieth Century Fox bought the rights, and so I’m working on it for them and really loving the process: Figuring out what stays, what goes, what needs to be invented to turn this book into a movie. I’m the daughter of a film professor and wrote about movies for Entertainment Weekly for years, so I am a film fanatic and so excited to be doing this. I have a dream of taking my dear ol' dad to a film premiere for one of my books—it’d be the coolest father-daughter date ever.