I expected to enjoy Gone Girl, but I wasn’t expecting to admire it. Gone Girl‘s premise, frankly, didn’t do much for me. Crazy wife! Cheating husband! Unforeseeable twist! I categorized it as an airport read, fun and forgettable. Boy was I wrong.
Gone Girl is deserving of all the praise and trillions of copies sold and movie adaptations and whatever else is headed Gillian Flynn’s way. What won me over even more than the exhilarating, perfectly paced plot was Flynn’s deftness on a sentence level. She has Stephen King’s ear for character, a master’s knack for evoking a person’s darkest, truest self with a twist of phrase or a keen observation.
After finishing Gone Girl, I sought out everything that a search engine algorithm might suggest for “readers who liked Gone Girl.” Here are some of my favorites:
Save Yourself, by Kelly Braffet
Kelly Braffet is married to Owen King, Stephen King’s son and a damn fine writer himself. That’s got nothing to do with her appearance here—just a fun fact! Save Yourself reminds me most of Gone Girl for its narrative drive. Braffet’s a terrific, addictive stylist just like Flynn, whose prose never gets in the way of telling a story that turns the pages by itself. There’s also a similarity in the way Braffet writes about the down and out corners of America. Her grubby gas stations and pickup trucks are from the same mental landscape as, for instance, Flynn’s hobo-mobbed ex-shopping mall.
Bury This, Andrea Portes
This riveting whodunit opens with a doll in the snow—a doll that’s really the body of a 22-year-old girl named Elizabeth Krause. The case goes nowhere for 25 years, until a documentary reignites interest and inspires Detective Barnett to try and finally solve the mystery of what happened to Krause. Portes is a snappy writer with crackling prose, and Muskegon, Michigan, where characters keep their secrets close to the vest, is a spooky setting that will please fans of Gone Girl’s deadend suburban landscape.
You Only Get Letters From Jail, Jodi Angel
The cover of Jodi Angel’s second collection of short stories—11 tales of boys on their way to becoming men, most of them baffled by the existence and mystery of women—could be a still from the future Gone Girl film. A girl sits atop an old-fashioned, lime-green car, one bare leg folded, the long muscles in her outstretched leg tensed, as if she’s about to bolt. These are gritty, dangerous stories, and their rough edges will get under your skin. Angel, like Flynn, is more interested in darkness than light, though you’ll find that here too, in moments of unexpected tenderness between characters.
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
A 600-page novel about a Baptist minister and the struggles he and his family face during a mission in the Congo might seem like a weird addition to this list. But one of my favorite things about Gone Girl is how fluently it shifts from Amy to Nick’s perspective, and how Flynn nails the nuances of their thoughts. Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible is narrated by the five women who make up the Price family. Their voices are unique and wholly imagined, and, as in Gone Girl, the alternating sections cast light on different aspects of the story. Every member of the Price family, under incredible stress in a foreign situation, is forced to confront their own potential for violence and savagery. This too, will remind you of Gone Girl–particularly of Nick, as he transforms from bad guy, to good guy, to bad guy, ad infinitum.
The Silent Wife, A.E Harrison
There’s something weird going on in this book. You know it from the first pages. The “silent wife” of the title, Jodi, is off: she’s too passive, too calm, too capable. Even though Harrison tells you in the first chapter that Jodi will kill her husband, you can’t quite believe that this self-possessed woman, this walker of Freud (her golden retriever), this therapist, this maker of smoked oyster crackers and pourer of crisp white wine, will actually commit the crime you’re supposed to expect. Like Flynn, Harrison’s narration is so skilled that even as you realize the story is withholding, is playing tricks, you can’t quite believe the truth until it’s spelled out for you.
In the Woods, by Tana French
I envy anyone who hasn’t yet fallen down the rabbit hole of French’s fiction. I picked up In the Woods and immediately tore my way through all four installments of her Dublin Murder Squad series. She’s Flynn’s equal when it comes to that unputdownableness that’s impossible to fully explain, that you-know-it-when-you-see it thing that’s so rare and wonderful in fiction. In this, French’s first book, detective Rob Ryan is assigned to a murder that occurred in the same woods where he, as a child, witnessed a terrible crime whose details he’s blacked out. The novel is full of mirrors and dead ends, just like Gone Girl, and it has a psychotic girl at its heart.
Honorable mention: French’s The Likeness. I actually like this the best of French’s novels, but it’s kinder than a Gillian Flynn novel. There’s more love in it. I’d argue that French is one of our best contemporary writers on friendship—but that’s for another blog post.
Cartwheel, Jennifer DuBois
Cartwheel is a novelization of the Amanda Knox story. Remember how stunned the whole world seemed to be about Knox’s strange behavior after hearing the news of her roommate’s murder? Instead of yoga stretches, Dubois has her Knox do a cartwheel. Flynn and DuBois share an interest in investigating the intense scrutiny women face when they don’t fit into prescribed roles. Cartwheel is a gorgeous, deeply empathetic book, that avoids an easy ending.
Visitation Street, Ivy Pochoda
It’s summer in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and 15-year-olds June and Val are restless, up for anything. In the spirit of adventure, they drag an inflatable raft to the seedy shoreline, and decide to take to the water. Then they disappear. The next morning, only Val returns, washed up among the broken beams and litter, barely alive. Visitation Street is as immersive as Gone Girl—you’ll be completely transported by Pochoda’s atmospheric Brooklyn universe, and desperate to find out what happens next.
Carrie, by Stephen King
Is there any better dramatization of the terrible power a girl feels after getting her first period than Carrie, King’s horrifying take on the psychic wrath unleashed by tormented 16-year-old Carrie White? This gory book, with its inverted religious overtones and preponderance of blood, will satisfy anyone who turned the pages of Gone Girl partially to find out who was going to die.
I know it seems obvious, and all you diehards are like, c’mon, I did that already. But this is for those of you who haven’t yet sought out Flynn’s earlier work and might need extra prodding. Sharp Objects is a brilliant, disturbing book, and it’s fascinating to track the motifs (self-inflicted violence, bodily functions, femininity gone wrong) that are clearly still driving its author’s imagination. I liked Dark Places less, but was still impressed by Flynn’s narrative fearlessness—she’s a writer who isn’t afraid to make her characters scare you and themselves.
What’s your favorite dark and twisty thriller?