I'm going to be really up front here: I know public opinion is that Gone Girl is a wonderful work of literature, and in some ways I do understand why. It's entertaining, full of (in my opinion, not that surprising) twists and turns, and eerily similar to every episode of Law & Order: SVU. I get why people like it, and I get why it's become popular enough to be on the New York Times bestseller list and why it's being made into a movie. But I have some serious issues about this book, and fans of this novel may not like what I have to say. You've been warned.
Gone Girl is decisively misogynistic.There is not a single woman in the entire novel that isn't a complete and utter mess -- whether it be daddy-issue-ridden Go, psychopathic scorned-wife Amy, or battered-woman-turned-thief Greta. Seriously, Gillian Flynn, you couldn't have given us one positive female character in the entire 432-page book?
Let's take a closer look at the array of awful women that appear (and disappear) in Gone Girl (WARNING, spoilers ahead):
1. Amy Elliott Dunne: Main character. The first half of the book, you think she's just a sad, cast-aside wife pitifully (and dutifully) working to pick back up the pieces of her marriage. The second half of the book, we learn she's actually a psychopath exacting what she believes is deserved revenge on her cheating husband, who was planning on trading her in for his pretty 23-year-old mistress. She is the definition of a 'crazy woman' -- even Nick, with satisfaction, states that he is the only man that can actually say his wife is truly crazy. Lucky you, Nick.
2. Andie Hardy: Andie is a walking stereotype: a 23-year-old, innocent, pretty girl who falls for her college professor and doesn't understand the concept of personal space (or marriage) even when his wife goes missing. She constantly spouts cliches of the needy mistress, including but not limited to "I just NEED you right now," and "tell me you love me." Also, she bites his face in anger -- Flynn may as well have named her Bunny and called it a day.
3. Marybeth Elliott: Amy's controlling and painfully submissive mother, a bona-fide New York writer who (with the assistance and oversight of her husband) wrote a successful series of children's books modeled after a more-perfect version of their own daughter. She is rarely seen anywhere except clinging to her husband's arm, and plays the role of doting wife and manic mother dutifully.
4. Margo Dunne: Without a doubt, Go is the closest portrayal of a positive female character that we see in this book. Nick's confidant, best friend, business partner and twin, she sticks by him through the grueling saga of his wife's disappearance. But her perceived shortcomings as a woman are not overlooked -- it's pointedly noted that she suffers from a severe case of daddy issues, often needing Nick to coddle her after rough breakups and unlikely to ever marry.
5. Greta: Amy meets Greta at the woodsy hideaway post-staged-kidnapping. Greta first presents as a sorry, battered woman -- covered in bruises and admittedly stuck in a pattern of poor choices in men. Amy takes a liking to Greta, who then partners with another traveler to rob Amy of the over $8,000 cash she is carrying. Super loyal friend.
6. Ellen Abbott: Brazen, critical, fame-whoring crime television show host. Modeled after Nancy Grace. Enough said.
7. Shawna Kelly: Crime-scene groupie, who initially tries to seduce Nick and then, when he rejects her, fabricates a flirtation that she parades across media to further soil Nick's already damaged reputation. (Seeing a pattern? Women are awful. Poor Nick.)
8. Noelle Hawthorne: Amy's "best friend," an over-emotional, Christian, casserole-toting housewife. She embodies every single stereotype of Midwestern women in one body, which is actually a relatively impressive feat if you think about it.
9. Rhonda Boney: First of all, this name. Rhonda Boney? Did Flynn google "female cop names" and use the first thing that came up? Second of all, Boney's storyline is painfully predictable: female cop that sympathizes with the unpopular husband, has her feelings hurt when it looks like he actually is the killer, then sticks around beyond the line of duty to prove the wife's wrongdoing. Just because a character can show a range of emotions does not mean she has emotional depth.
By the end, despite Nick being a cheating husband who dragged his wife thousands of miles from home and then lashed out at her for not maintaining her enthusiasm, the reader feels sorry for him. After all, look at how awful, manipulative, poorly-constructed of a character his wife is -- who could blame him for wanting to run into Andie's open arms (and legs!)? Poor, poor Nick.
For a book with a lot of female characters, it's frustrating to see each and every one so flat, one-dimensional and stereotypical. Even Nick has his ambiguous morality, his internal conflicts, his multi-dimensionality and layers. Why are women relegated to characters that represent such terrible female stereotypes?
It's easy to write one-dimensional women, because they're seen all over media: The Homemaker, The Villain, The Mistress, The Crazy Woman. They are exaggerated and flat minimizations of real people, boiled out and stripped down of their complexity until they are blank, stereotypical shells. Flynn even takes female stereotypes head on through Amy's frustration with the Cool Girl -- yet she flails in her own attempts to develop realistic female characters. In real life, a woman can be The Homemaker, The Power Bitch, The Mistress, The Good Guy and The Bad Guy all in one. Women (like all people) are complex, and if writers like Flynn are hoping to suspend disbelief and get the readers to invest in the lives of these fictional characters, they need to be portrayed as such.
Don't get me wrong, I understand that the book would've been predictable and perhaps unfairly weighted had Nick actually been the killer. So let me be clear: I don't think Nick should've been the murderer, especially for the sake of selling books. My intent is not to argue that men don't get duped, that women can't be criminals or manipulative or, frankly, crazy. But we need to look at literary characters with a critical eye and understand the ways in which they can defy or perpetuate stereotypes. In doing so, the only conclusion is to understand the need for less one-dimensional characters -- especially when it comes to women, who are all too often the victims of this literary flattening.