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If you haven’t yet read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, flip past this page now. We wouldn’t want to rob you of the surprises the Chicago novelist packs into her 2012 best-selling thriller. On the day we spoke by phone, Flynn had been adapting Gone Girl for the screen; Reese Witherspoon will produce the movie. (And, the Internet tells us, David Fincher will direct? The author wouldn’t confirm.) The 41-year-old native of Kansas City, Missouri, lives in Ukrainian Village with her attorney husband, Brett Nolan, and her son, Flynn (“my husband thought that was a nice way to keep the name in the family”). At the Harold Washington Library, she will discuss her third novel—an incisive probe into romance turned sour—the day before Valentine’s.
The ending has been very polarizing; it’s also not at all a Hollywood resolution. Is anyone suggesting you tweak it for the movie?
So far, that is not in the plans. It is a long road until we get there. I didn’t know how it was gonna end. But I did like the idea of this strange symbiosis that these two people had created because they are both addicted to the gamesmanship of their marriage and also because they did complete each other, even if it was in [Laughs] an incredibly toxic way.
It occurred to me you hadn’t been married long yourself when you must’ve first been thinking about Gone Girl’s Amy and Nick.
Yeah, that’s true. We might’ve been just engaged.
Seems like a very sober look at marriage from someone new to the institution.
[Laughs] At the time, I didn’t think about how absolutely unromantic a vision I was writing when I was a newlywed. I think it was becauseI wasn’t someone who had necessarily always thought that I would end up married. So I thought about it a lot. It was like, I’m getting married—what does this mean? It was a very writerly, navel-gazing thing. I had spent a lot of time with my previous two books thinking about people who were tormented in this aloneness, and I was eager to look at what it meant when you join yourself to someone for life.
The acknowledgments are very gushing toward your husband. I wondered, Does she feel she has to make clear he is not Nick?
[Laughs] I was incredibly grateful that I had a husband who got it, that he was very confident in our marriage. If I had a spouse I had to constantly reassure, that book wouldn’t have gotten made. I would’ve doubted myself and stopped writing it.
You’ve said you want to counter the woman-as-victim motif of thrillers; you want to write about the violence of women. What’s at stake for you in imagining that violence?
Women are just as violently minded as men are, but with men it’s taken for granted. It’s something to be gotten out of the system or something to be put up with or dealt with, whereas women, it’s still considered this very surprising thing. And that’s because of this, to me, constantly enraging notion that women are supposed to be natural nurturers, we’re naturally good.
But violence is a bad thing, right?
I shouldn’t say specifically violence. I mean anger; I mean the darker emotions. The fact that it’s kept in check is a very good thing. But if women are considered innately good, then it robs us of any sort of will for that. I try very hard to be a good person, and [Laughs] I want credit for that. I don’t want people to say, “Oh, it’s just because she’s a woman.” That simplifies women quite a bit.
Isn’t there a fine line between the darkness of women and the stereotypical psycho bitch?
Well, I don’t write psycho bitches. The psycho bitch is just crazy, she has no motive, she’s a dismissible person because of her psycho bitchiness. And to me the whole point is to write scary women who aren’t dismissible, who are frightening and calculating but you know the reason why. You know Amy’s back story. And, to me, she’s sympathetic. I mean, I wouldn’t go on a road trip with her or anything.
Yet her response to an unfaithful husband is so extreme—so potentially psycho bitchy.
She’s a functioning sociopath. She’s not a well person. But that’s very different than the iconic psycho bitch. I’m talking about the capital P, capital B Psycho Bitch, which to me is [Whispers]: She’s just crazy ’cause her lady parts have gone crazy!
What’s the most Amy-like thing about you?
I like that she does what she says she’s gonna do. I appreciate that she rules with all her righteousness forward.
Why are you fascinated with murder?
I’ve always been. I had a very normal, Midwest, middle-class childhood, so I felt safe to roam over there. I tend to write about dark things that happen in a very domestic setting ’cause that to me is much scarier than the unknown. When I was really little, I liked scary movies. My dad was a film professor, so he would take me to wildly inappropriate movies. [Laughs] I was obsessed with Psycho.
Do your parents read your writing now and ask, “Anything you want to tell us?”
The first time my mom read my very first book, she was like, “I’m not gonna belabor this. It’s not a big deal. But I have to ask the question: Is everything okay?” They put up with a fair amount of questions that they shouldn’t.
“What’s wrong with your daughter?”
And, by connection, “What’s wrong with you?”
Flynn reads from and discusses Gone Girl at the Harold Washington Library February 13 at 6pm.