I derive a perverse pleasure from reading about bad marriages. Or maybe there’s nothing perverse about it. Maybe I feel the compulsive need to conduct in-depth autopsies of what went wrong in other people’s relationships so as not to repeat their mistakes. At any rate, if you also enjoy reading about bad marriages, you’ll very much enjoy Gillian Flynn’s thriller, Gone Girl.
In the novel, Amy Dunne has disappeared, and the police slowly begin to suspect her husband, Nick Dunne, of foul play. In alternating narratives, we get to hear all about Nick in the real-time aftermath of Amy’s disappearance, interspersed with excerpts from Amy’s diary in the years and months leading up to her violent vanishing. Of course, there’s suspense, and in the end, some very interesting twists. But what’s brilliant about this novel is that it takes the mysteries that lie at the center of every marriage and takes them to the dark place that is always there, waiting in the shadows.
It’s all summed up in the quote with which Flynn begins the novel from Tony Kushner:
Love is the world’s infinite mutability; lies, hatred, murder even, are all knit up in it; it is the inevitable blossoming of its opposites, a magnificent rose smelling faintly of blood.
Nick is plagued throughout the novel by the same set of questions about his wife, “What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”
I once read about a woman who would lay in bed at night and imagine exactly which knife she would take out of the kitchen drawer in order to stab her husband. Luckily, this woman divorced her husband and he emerged from the marriage unscathed. I remember at the time being horrified, wondering, “Is this what marriage is?”
Let me say that I do not want to kill my husband. Even in my moments of most extreme rage, I don’t want him dead at my hands or anyone else’s. But it is only in relation to those I have loved most passionately that I have ever ventured close to that state of emotion described as homicidal rage. Truly, no one can make you angrier than the people you love the most.
On top of that is the eeriness of intimacy. Nick Dunne thinks he knows what his wife is thinking, how she’s feeling, who she is, but of course, he finds out he was so very wrong. When I was in college, I wrote a paper on Romeo and Juliet about the incomprehensibility of love, and I will never forget the comment my professor wrote along with her grade. She said the paper made her think about the “the relationship between terror and intimacy.” Yes, just that.
Nick and Amy Dunne have heard all the good marriage advice we all hear. Communicate. Never go to bed angry. And still the rose of their marriage blossoms in a spectacularly bloody fashion.
I’ve been married not yet three years, and I can’t tell you what the difference is between bloody murder and marital bliss, but I would have to guess it’s a daily thing. Hundreds of times every day the path that leads to the drawer full of kitchen knives and the path that helps you remember why you ever fell in love open up before you. You make the choice over and over again. Maybe reading about other people’s bad marriages is useful only to remind ourselves of that.