The Amy Dunne fan club; on Gillian Flynn’s cool female characters

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**Gone Girl and Sharp Objects spoilers below**

Of the major female characters in Gillian Flynn’s three novels; Amma, the little sister in Sharp Objects is probably the least believable, and Amy, the protagonist/antagonist in Gone Girl is probably the most believable. Don’t agree? I would argue that the trope of the evil little girl is both unoriginal and based on little more than the popular imagination’s rendering of Lizzie Borden, while we all know a bitch in real life that might be as crazy as Amy Dunne.

I mean no disrespect to Gillian Flynn when I say I find Amma to be an unbelievable character. I mean only that Flynn’s other characters are better drawn and that there is something especially terrifying about someone who is outwardly perfect, beautiful and fun like Amy Dunne, who will do things to you that are worse than murder. Amy is a character drawn so well that by the end of the book, even as I was terrified of her I also found myself wanting to go for a drink with someone like her. There’s something appealing about Amy. About the brilliance it took to plan her crime, about her commitment to perfection. It’s impressive and if there were any way to ensure she would always stay on your side, it would be a hell of a life having someone like Amy around.

Flynn’s process for writing is interesting and worth noting. She doesn’t outline her books but lets the story happen organically; consider that as a reader it can be tricky to keep track of timelines and directions in her novels. For Gone Girl she devised whole lives for her main characters, wrote background material, did writing exercises to help her flesh them out and better understand the people who’s lives she was ruining on the page. Wanting to understand who these characters were as people Flynn made iPod playlists and Netflix queues for Nick and Amy, and wrote scenes from the POV of minor figures throughout their lives. This stuff wasn’t meant to be used in the book, it was meant to help Flynn in its construction. That famous “cool girl” speech? That started as one of those writing exercises but Flynn liked it so much she decided to keep it.

We’re lucky to be reading in a time when a writer as talented as Flynn is writing mysteries. Popular fiction is popular for a reason; it’s fun and exciting to read and accessible enough that a wide cross section of people can join the conversation about it. Unfortunately, popular fiction often isn’t very good (I’m looking at you, 50 Shades of Gray). How lucky that a writer like Flynn can give us the page-turners we crave while also delivering weird and wonderful characters, maze-like but plausible plots, and the occasional take-down of “cool girls.”


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