GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. Crown, 419 pp., $25.
The intricacies of a marriage -- the give and take, the negotiations, the compromises and, it is hoped, the love -- are the most private parts of the relationship. What is normal in a household -- private jokes, neglected anniversary gifts, little lies -- can be, in the wrong circumstances, suspicious and deceptive behavior.
That adage of "no one knows what goes on behind closed doors" moves the plot of "Gone Girl," Gillian Flynn's suspenseful psychological thriller.
On the surface, Nick and Amy Dunne have a perfect marriage. Yes, they both have lost their jobs: Nick was a movie reviewer for a magazine; Amy wrote personality quizzes. And they have had to move from New York City back to Nick's Missouri hometown to care for his mother, who has since died. But they live in a lovely, though rented, mini mansion on the Mississippi River. At least Nick has found work, opening up a bar with his twin sister, "Go," short for Margo.
Then Amy disappears on their fifth anniversary, and what some may see as a sublime life begins to crumble. The couple's individual personalities emerge as "Gone Girl" alternates between Amy's diary and Nick's narration. Neither can tell the truth about themselves or their relationship, and the cracks emerge. Each knows how to push the other's buttons, and it's never a pretty sight.
The vivacious, smart Amy is obsessed with being perfect and having the kind of soul-mate relationship that her psychologist parents have. Somehow, Amy has never lived up to the Amy at the center of the series of bestselling children's books written by her parents. Good guy Nick isn't quite as innocent, or as nice, as he purports to be, forever fearful that his "father's rage could rise up" in him at any time. As the spouse, Nick knows he is the logical suspect in Amy's disappearance, and apparent murder, and his demeanor seems to suggest his guilt. He lies quite easily and often to the police, frequently doesn't answer his phone, trying to hide a secret life. And then there are his creepy computer searches, her incriminating diary and Amy's friends -- ones he never knew existed -- who claim the couple's marriage was anything but peaceful.
The unpredictable plot of "Gone Girl" careens down an emotional highway where this couple dissects their marriage with sharp acumen.
Flynn easily makes Amy and Nick both sympathetic and unlikable. Empathy for either varies from chapter to chapter, as "Gone Girl" shows the disintegration of their marriage. Nick is weak and distant, but Amy may be a sociopath who will go to any lengths to punish a perceived slight. Neither is evil, but their flaws often dominate their personalities, leading to a chilling and surprising finale.
Flynn has shown her skills at gripping tales and enhanced character studies since her debut, "Sharp Objects," which garnered an Edgar nod, among other award nominations. Her second novel, "Dark Places," made numerous "best of" lists. "Gone Girl" reaffirms her talent.