'Gone Girl' author Gillian Flynn talks murder, marriage, and con games
With her latest novel Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn — former EW TV critic and author of previous books Sharp Objects and Dark Places — has written the book of the summer. Yesterday, Amazon named Gone Girl the best novel of 2012 so far, and last month, EW predicted it would be the novel that would make her a star. Flynn talked to me about the thought process behind her disturbing psychological thriller. (Mild spoiler alert: No big secrets revealed, but it’s best to know as little about Gone Girl as possible before reading it).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come up with the premise for Gone Girl?
GILLIAN FLYNN: I wanted to write about marriage. In my first two books, my protagonists were single almost to the point of not having much attachment to anyone else in the world. I wanted to explore the opposite — when you willingly yoke yourself to someone for life, and what happens when it starts going wrong. I’m playing with the idea of courtship as a con game: You want this other person to like you, so you’re never going to show them your worst side until it’s too late.
The novel is a genre mash-up: It’s part domestic drama, part crime thriller.
You’re right. There are no bodies or accumulation of murders. The suspense comes from this married couple, Nick and Amy, and trying to figure out who to believe. It’s a he-said/she-said tug-of-war.
It also feels like a riff on one of those Dateline mysteries.
I’m a true-crime addict. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but I can’t stop. You watch those shows like everyone else does. A wife goes missing; you assume that the husband did it. To me, that was a very interesting idea.
Did you model Gone Girl after a particular real-life case?
I definitely didn’t want to do anything specific. One could point to Scott and Lacey Peterson — they were certainly a good-looking couple. But they’re always good-looking couples. That’s why they end up on TV. You don’t normally see incredibly ugly people who’ve gone missing and it becomes a sensation. It could be any number of those types of cases, but that was what kind of interested me: the selection and the packaging of a tragedy. In a way, I reverse-engineered some of it. What’s going to amp up the media’s interest in this, and what’s going to make it believable that the media’s going to descend on this?
Your characters are so savvy. They know exactly what the media will latch onto.
They’re very savvy! We’re all very savvy. That’s another theme that I was interesting in playing with in the book: the idea that it’s hard for anyone to claim that they don’t know how these things work anymore because we’re so immersed in it, on the internet and TV and movies. There are no really new stories anymore. I feel like we’re heading to a place where everything ricochets off each other and triggers some sort of memory or reference or thought to the point where … I have conversations all the time with friends who say, “Now is that a story that someone told me, or was that a book I read, or did I see it on a TV show?” and you spend 10 minutes trying to figure out why you both have the same memory and then you realize it’s an old Cheers episode or something completely insane, and it’s become engrained in your head that way.
Part of the fun of Gone Girl is choosing sides. Team Amy or Team Nick?
Right! At any given moment, whoever’s perspective I was writing was whose side I was on. Obviously — without giving too much away — neither of them always does the right thing. Let’s put it that way. [Laughs] At the same time, they started from a place where they both thought that they’d found their soul mates. I can’t think of anything more crushing than slowly, over time, realizing exactly how wrong you were about someone.
How have you seen male and female readers react differently to Amy and Nick’s marriage?
Several of my guy friends relate to that feeling of no matter what you do, it’s not going to be good enough — the idea of being cast as the permanent schlub in the marital story. That definitely seems to hit a nerve. And for women, that idea of constantly needing to be in charge of everything definitely seems to click. Some men think Amy’s the greatest and think she’s completely within her rights to do what she does, and they would have done it too. It’s funny to see what triggers people.
What did your husband think about the book?
First he bought me flowers. “Is everything all right, honey?” [Laughs] No, he was gangbusters about it. He didn’t want me to change anything on his account.
It wasn’t ever strange to immerse yourself in such a dark couple and then transition right back into your own life at dinnertime?
I would write certain scenes in my basement office and hear my husband moving around upstairs, and I’d tell myself, “Shake it off, Flynn. Keep the crazy downstairs.” I should put that on a T-shirt.
You’re a former pop culture writer. What movies were you thinking about while you were writing the novel?
It’s a play that became a movie, but definitely Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The dialogue is so great. Also The War of the Roses, which is one of the best black comedies ever. I went back to watch it and was glad to see it’s still as maddening and sad and hilarious as I remembered it.
Are there any songs that pulled you into the story?
This is going to sound incredibly weird, but there’s this great old murder ballad that’s sometimes called “Rose Connelly” or “Down in the Willow Garden” that I always thought was this lonely theme of the book. It’s sung by a man who’s talking about murdering his pregnant girlfriend. It’s this gorgeous, beautiful, mournful kind of song that I could see Amy getting dramatic about and listening to while writing diary entries and enjoying the tragedy of it all.
How do you feel about Amy Adams playing Libby in the adaptation of your last novel, Dark Places?
I couldn’t dream of someone more fantastic. We have an official director, Gilles Paquet-Brenner, and he’s really dedicated to it. I’ve read the screenplay, and it’s awesome. I worked at EW because I loved movies, TV, and books, so for me to actually get a book to be a movie would be pretty much the coolest thing.
I talked to Patricia Cornwell once about this shift in the crime genre from pure procedural to more nuanced character study, which is your wheelhouse. Do you perceive this shift as well?
Yeah. I don’t know why necessarily why it is, but I think people are attracted to character studies if they’re hung on a mystery. I think there’s a really good way to tell a story, and I think more and more good writers are being attracted to that kind of story. For me it all started with Mystic River and Dennis Lehane. I remember reading that when I was still working at EW and writing Sharp Objects. I read that in one night. I had to go to work the next day and I was still completely obsessed with it and thinking about it and I thought, “That’s how I can tell this story.” That’s why I thought I could write Sharp Objects that way. He was a big influence. I think mystery writers and thriller writers — whatever genre you want to call it — are taking on some of the biggest, most interesting kind of socioeconomic issues around in a really interesting, compelling way.
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