Remember the spoilers notice over there on the left hand side of the page? Yeah, it’s particularly relevant to this review. I talk about the end just one paragraph from now. It’s worth not knowing if you plan to read the novel. You will either love it or hate it. That seems to be the end result of reading this book. There isn’t much middle ground – except for the people that don’t finish it. I know a surprising number of people who just didn’t finish this book. I do not understand it.
I was gripped from the very beginning. I needed to know what had happened – the first time I read it. I decided I wanted to give it a re-read far enough out from the movie release. I’m obviously in the love category for this book. I loved the mystery the first time. Did Nick do it? Did he not do it? What happened to Amy? Wait, Amy is still alive! She’s still alive and she’s framing Nick! What the hell is going on here?! And the second time, I loved the layers of complexity.
Re-reads are great with this type of book because you get to put all that what’s happening stuff aside. You’re no longer trying to figure out the mystery. Now you’re looking at the characters. You get to read fake Amy’s diary entries from a new perspective. You can feel the sarcasm dripping from the entries. And here’s where the underlying thematic content starts to arise. The really interesting part of the book – what makes a person a person. Both Nick and Amy touch on this idea at different parts of the book.
What makes you you? What happened to form you into the person you are? Are you genuine or have you just adopted roles presented to you to form a personality? And if that’s what we do, is it a bad thing? How else do we figure out our likes and dislikes if we’re not exposed to multiple options? Is that putting on airs? Nick and Amy display the two sides of this argument pretty perfectly, and not in the way you might expect. Nick feels like the guy we should hate, but he’s a much better example of adopting personality traits and turning it into a persona – a flawed person, but a person none the less. Amy adopts personas, but switches them whenever she wants to fit her needs. She has no understanding of how to own her personality. She’s a righteous bitch, or more accurately a sociopath, because she never absorbs the things she observes. She simply takes the things she sees and figures out a way to use them against the people who have pissed her off.
By looking at how Amy manipulates not only her husband but the police, the media, and by proxy, the entire country, we’re forced to consider how the spread of media – written, visual, and social – influences crime and our perceptions of it. This is referenced when Nick’s lawyer is discussing their case. In crime fiction, the husband is always a suspect and almost always the perpetrator when a wife goes missing. Every time an episode of Law & Order/Criminal Minds/CSI airs, they show evidence that’s used to capture the criminal, techniques that are used to hide evidence, and ways that criminals get away with, or are caught for, their crimes. However truthful or fictional these actions are, they change the face of how criminals act. They allow people like Amy to manipulate the system to achieve the outcome they want and the entire system becomes a game of chase. The more people like me watch/read these – the more of shows/books are created – the more opportunities there are to learn to hide a criminal act. This isn’t a new trend. Crime fiction has existed for decades, but it’s so much easier to access now that it’s created a very strange ripple.
While I hated Amy, I enjoyed the Flynn chose to make the villain the female character. I’m not saying Nick is the good guy. He’s a scumbag, but in the regular way. He’s cheating on his wife. That’s regular bad guy, not deserves to be framed for murder villainous. But Amy is a flat out villain. She is spiteful. She holds in every slight and when she can’t handle it anymore, she turns on the people who ‘hurt’ her. She became friends with Hillary in high school because it was someone she could easily control but when Hillary started to gain other friends, Amy used her powers of manipulation and turned her friend into an unbalanced stalker. She accused Tony of rape because he started dating someone else after their very short term relationship didn’t work out. And the worst one, she uses Desi’s infatuation with her to get her out of trouble and then kills him and accuses him of kidnap and rape. And she does it all in order to make sure that other people continue to look up to her and love her, even when she doesn’t like the people she wants these reactions from. She breaks the lives of the people around her. She continues to do it after she returns home and finds a way to convince Nick to remain in her life and under her control. She has no redeeming qualities, but she’s a great character to read.
More than just a who-done-it, this is a character study in social and personal manipulation. It forces you to take a step back and look at your own actions, and the actions of the people around you. Do we do what we do in order to get what we want, or because we know who we are? Can any of us ever really be genuine or are we so influenced by the broader society that we simply adopt the roles we think we need to – cool girl, good guy, sexy, smart, etc, etc, etc – until we’ve reach some goal set by people we’ve never met and don’t need to care about?