Posted on Fri, Jun. 08, 2012 12:00 AM

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‘Gone Girl’s’ Gillian Flynn peers into dark recesses of marriage

The Midwest echoes through Kansas City native’s latest thriller.

Updated: 2012-06-08T23:22:35Z

Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn

MEET THE AUTHOR Who: Gillian Flynn, author of “Gone Girl” When: 7 p.m. Monday Where: Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St. What: A discussion with Vivien Jennings of Rainy Day Books Admission: $25, includes a book and two tickets. For information go to rainydaybooks.com.

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Mystery novelist and Kansas City native Gillian Flynn wanted her new book, “Gone Girl,” to focus on marriage, and God only knows why somebody didn’t stop her.

“In my first two books, the characters were decidedly unattached,” Flynn says. “I wanted to move in another direction, a mystery that goes inside the house.”

The appropriate reaction is “Yikes.” Flynn’s third noir thriller recently launched to even more acclaim than the first two novels, polishing her reputation for pushing crime fiction to a new literary level and as a craftsman of deliciously twisting and twisted plots.

“We self-mythologize so much, how can we expect to know another person well?” Flynn asks, now a bit ominously. “The desire to be known and accepted — how close can you get to that with another human being? What level of intimacy is even possible?”

For the reader who is married or partnered: “It should resonate to some degree, to a slightly Technicolor, or maybe reverse Technicolor, degree.”

Flynn visits Kansas City Monday to talk about her book at Unity Temple on the Plaza. It’s a homecoming for her. She grew up in the Coleman Highlands neighborhood, where her (happily married) parents still live. Flynn is an alum of Bishop Miege High School and the University of Kansas. She and her lawyer husband, Brett Nolan, live in Chicago with their 2-year-old son, Flynn. If you meet her, by the way, pronounce “Gillian” with a hard “G.”

“Gone Girl” concerns married couple Amy and Nick, and the story opens on their fifth anniversary, the day Amy goes missing. Nick returns home to find what looks like a struggle in the living room, but no Amy.

The story unfolds in separate accounts, Amy in the past tense through diary entries and Nick in present day. They are unreliable narrators, to say the least, but then maybe most couples are, when telling the story of their relationship. It’s “what happened to Amy?” swimming in the vortex of “what happened to Nick and Amy?”

The couple meet in New York, get married and move to Nick’s Missouri hometown, a small burg broken down by recession on the banks of the Mississippi. New Yorker Amy hardly relishes the move. Nick hardly relishes the marriage.

Note Flynn’s choice for an epigraph, from Tony Kushner’s play “The Illusion”: “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.”

Flynn finds other psychological gardens to explore besides marriage. Amy, it turns out, is “Amazing Amy,” the heroine of a popular series of children’s books of which her parents were the authors. They dote on Amy, their only child, but also on the persona of “Amazing Amy.”

“I liked the idea of a child who is overly beloved all her life,” Flynn says. “Anything her parents couldn’t correct in Amy, they could correct in ‘Amazing Amy.’ How awful would that be?”

As in her earlier novels, Flynn picked a Missouri setting, but this time on the eastern side. Nick hails from North Carthage, a river town above Hannibal. Flynn says she couldn’t resist the allusion to Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” She added “North” because there’s a real Carthage south near Joplin.

Amy takes aim at modern Midwestern mores, from scrambled-egg casseroles to bulk shopping to blond wedge hairstyles and slip-on mules. Flynn says it’s not the author poking fun.

“To me it’s a shout-out,” she says. “I love bourbon slushes and salami and cheese roll-ups. After living in New York, I know there’s a sense of strange exoticness about the middle of the country. I’m trying to reflect that sense of otherness, in both directions.”

Flynn certainly skewers cable TV crime news with the character of Ellen Abbott, a stand-in for commentator Nancy Grace. Abbott quickly tries and convicts Nick on air for Amy’s disappearance. Flynn wanted to explore that experience, being cast almost instantly as a villain in the eyes of millions.

“I am a true-crime addict, which is not something I like about myself,” Flynn says. “What you’re really doing is consuming other people’s tragedy, packaged to be consumed. And you’re never getting the full story, which can come out years later.”

There’s already talk of a “Gone Girl” movie, and Flynn’s previous novels, “Sharp Objects” and “Dark Places,” also are slated for filmdom. Actress Amy Adams reportedly is negotiating to play Libby Day in a “Dark Places” film by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, director of “Sarah’s Key.”

Flynn took Paquet-Brenner on a tour of Kansas City and the region, a part of America new to him.

“He loved Liberty Memorial,” Flynn says. “He said he wanted to do a scene there. And he loved the West Bottoms.”

Excerpt from “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn (published by Crown, a division of Random House)

It was our five-year anniversary.

I walked barefoot to the edge of the steps and stood listening, working my toes into the plush wall-to-wall carpet Amy detested on principle, as I tried to decide whether I was ready to join my wife. Amy was in the kitchen, oblivious to my hesitation. She was humming something melancholy and familiar. I strained to make it out — a folk song? a lullabye? — and then realized it was the theme to M*A*S*H. Suicide is painless. I went downstairs.

I hovered in the doorway, watching my wife. Her yellow-butter hair was pulled up, the hank of ponytail swinging cheerful as a jump rope, and she was sucking distractedly on a burnt fingertip, humming around it. She hummed to herself because she was an unrivaled botcher of lyrics. When we were first dating, a Genesis song came on the radio: “She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah.” And Amy crooned instead, “She takes my hat and puts it on the top shelf.” When I asked her why she’d ever think her lyrics were remotely, possibly, vaguely right, she told me she always thought the woman in the song truly loved the man because she put his hat on the top shelf. I knew I liked her then, really liked her, this girl with an explanation for everything.

There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.

Amy peered at the crepe sizzling in the pan and licked something off her wrist. She looked triumphant, wifely. If I took her in my arms, she would smell like berries and powdered sugar.

When she spied me lurking there in grubby boxers, my hair in full Heat Miser spike, she leaned against the kitchen counter and said, “Well, hello, handsome.”

Bile and dread inched up my throat. I thought to myself: Okay, go.

To reach Edward M. Eveld, call 816-234-4442 or send email to eeveld@kcstar.com.

Posted on Fri, Jun. 08, 2012 12:00 AM
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